The London-based artist presents Gorgeous Pink Rags, a new exhibition of paintings currently on display at 106 Jermyn Street.
After a successful career as a fashion art director, working for designer heavyweights such as Stella McCartney and Paul Smith, Jonathan Schofield recently returned to his first love: painting.
The Manchester-born, Hackney-based artist may liken his decision to a mid-life crisis, but the pivot didn’t come completely out of the blue. Schofield’s background is in painting; he studied Fine Art under Peter Doig (‘a great artist but not a great teacher. He’d come in, smoke a fag and talk about David Bowie’) at The Royal College of Art in the mid- 1990s. ‘I carried on painting for a few years, got into art directing and then gave up painting,’ he says, explaining that he felt tempted to return years later – a motivation ‘galvanised’ by the pandemic – and everything came together once he found a studio space near his east London home.
‘An artist’s life is a scary life,’ he says, ‘the second bite of the cherry is not easy. I remember a nice tutor [at college] saying, stick at it, it will happen. You don’t want to hear that at 25, but she was right. It’s about being a very different person to who you are in your mid-to-late 20s. I’ve been blessed with this second attempt at something I wanted to do, and it’s better when you are a bit older. A great lesson is not to panic if something doesn’t pan out the first time around.’
Schofield graduated at a significant moment in the British art scene, at the tail-end of the Young British Artists (YBAs) movement and an era of what he describes as ‘hard, conceptual art’. In this sense, his colourful dream-like paintings with their whimsical figures, didn’t quite fit the mould. In a word, they were unfashionable. But given the cyclical nature of all things fashion, he has found his style newly in vogue.
‘The art world is more “fashion” than fashion,’ he says. ‘It’s incredibly fickle in a way that they don’t like to think of themselves. I found fashion more straightforward – we are what we are.’
Schofield describes his paintings as ‘like film stills’ that exist half in the real world and half in a fantastical imaginary world. He depicts modern figures (always impeccably dressed) in ‘abstract, poetic spaces’. The canvas is approached as an open-ended “cinematic” space, and the compositions are created intuitively through a process of erasure and editing until the painting begins to have its own ‘internal logic and meaning’.
‘There is, however, no linear narrative,’ he explains. ‘I’m looking instead for the clarity of a waking dream; a collage of edits.’
Among his artistic inspirations, Schofield cites Manet, Renoir and Matisse. What links these giants of 19th- and 20th-century art is their commanding use of colour, something that Schofield admits to being ‘obsessed’ with. In particular the colour pink.
‘Colour really drives my paintings, and I’ve always been strangely drawn to pink,’ he says. ‘My degree show was just these pink Rothko-esque paintings. It’s almost become my signature colour, like my Klein Blue. There’s a subversive quality and eroticism to pink, but it’s also elegant – like Marilyn Monroe’s dress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – but a bit punky too. It’s interesting that Jamie Reid used it for the cover of the Sex Pistols’ album. It has so many uses and associations.’
Schofield’s unique experience and expertise of both the art and fashion worlds – as well as his affinity for the colour pink – made him an obvious choice for a new exhibition at Thomas Pink. The Jermyn Street flagship will host a selection of his paintings under the title Gorgeous Pink Rags from 29 September and throughout October, when Frieze London returns to the capital. The exhibition title comes from a quote from The Great Gatsby, in which protagonist Nick Carraway shouts to Jay Gatsby: ‘They’re a rotten crowd... You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’ The quote continues:
‘I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and ecstatic and understanding smile, as if we had been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time, his gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of colour against the white steps.’
Of the upcoming exhibition, Schofield says: ‘The opportunity to show paintings in a non-traditional gallery space on Jermyn Street was of great interest to me. Jermyn Street is legendary in the sartorial history of London, and the themes of the paintings work in lyrical synchronicity with the Thomas Pink brand.’
Gorgeous Pink Rags by Jonathan Schofield will be on display at Thomas Pink, 106 Jermyn Street London until 31 October 2023