11 – 27 September 2019
P PANTER & HALL 11 – 12 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5LU
For PJ Crook, the world – whether natural, spiritual, mythical, political or imagined – is her stage. On the canvas she brings alive its players and presents meticulously detailed snapshots of our age: the preoccupations, pursuits, hopes and dreams of everyday life. In doing so, she often prompts us to ask questions about how we see our own place and purpose in the world. It is apposite, given the challenging times in which we live – the emergency of climate change, ocean acidification, shrinking ice, retreating glaciers and the extirpative and global extinction of Earth’s creatures – that this exhibition is named Preserving the Species. There is no more significant task staring us in the face than an expeditious effort to save planet Earth. Unlike the mass extinction events of geological history, it is our species that is entirely responsible for the current sixth mass extinction of fauna and flora. In this sense, this exhibition creates a profound resonance and highlights our fragile relationship with the planet.
In the ‘angel and animals’ group of works, angels accompany and perhaps protect creatures on their trek through habitats. Is it that the animals no longer trust humankind? Or have the angels intervened in the light of humankind’s absent guardianship of the preservation of species? The narrative of these paintings inspires us to mould ourselves into guardians of those with whom we share Earth. PJ’s paintings encourage us to ‘step up to the mark’ and fill a lacuna that is a reconnection with nature and the reframing of our attitudes to it. The large painting Coming to the Table (50 x 70 inches) and the small oval painting Putting Back (10 x 12 inches), engage us in a contemplation of our relationship to Earth. In Putting Back we are asked to consider our duty to return to the natural world the riches it has so generously bestowed upon us. In Coming to the Table the animals are also present at the partying scene – a timely reminder that we share a space with them – not they with us! The conservationist Grey Owl said, ‘you belong to nature, not it to you!’
Another theme related to species – in particular, of helping to save our own – is that of journey and the migrants’ voyage to seek a safe haven. This is explored in both The Survivor and Nautilus. In Nautilus the discarded shells remind us these were once homes, whilst the approaching migrants are in search of a new one. The figures are tiny in comparison to the Nautilus – signifying that nature is bigger than all of us – but it is also both nature and our fellow mortals that require our solicitude.
It is not only a celebration of the natural world that permeates PJ Crook’s work. Her work effuses a celebration of what it means to be human. A group of such paintings include Open Mic, Le Weekend, Evolution Revolution, and Replication with studio friends Hopper & Lettuce. These paintings are ‘familiar friends’ which carry the signature of her early work – an exuberance of characters and situations executed with technical artistry. Alongside the potency of the images is the esprit of the inner child – a cherished attribute still very much visible in PJ’s work. There is also bustling activity, humour, drama, and a vibrant palette. It is here where the themes of social interaction, community, mystery, illusion and imagination are enacted to the full as if the paintings broadcast the sheer thrill of what it means to be alive.
This aliveness also shines in Mother and Child and Annunciation – works which express the creation and nurturing of new life. Perhaps this is a vision of a better future with hearts and minds that nurture rather than decimate the creatures with which we share a home. Like the love connection in Mother and Child, it is only through falling in love with Earth that we will truly be emotionally connected enough to Gaia to protect her and focus our attention on preserving the species.
‘Why don’t we remember those with whom we share Earth? And why don’t we honour and value their true worth? We wouldn’t want those best friends to simply vanish without trace, So let’s work together and restore their rightful place.’
Dr PJ Crook MBE shows around the world and last year she had a large exhibition at the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art in Japan, who have just purchased her construction ‘Stepping Out (In my shoes)’ for their permanent collection. Robert Fripp and King Crimson have been using PJ’s images on CDs and DVDs for the past twenty two years – most recently ‘Nocturne’ on ‘Heaven and Earth this year. www.pjcrook.com