PATIENCE 1983 tinted gesso on wood 17.2 x 13 cm
A picture on a wall is defined – you could say confined – by its frame. Yet the artist PJ Crook frequently challenges this idea: sometimes her paintings seem to escape the boundaries of their frame; at others the frame itself becomes absorbed into the painting.
This painting, ‘Patience’, appears to encapsulate both the idea of self-isolation and the resources needed to retreat from the world outside. A woman sits at a card table, playing patience, her cat on the carpet for company. It’s a sunny day and the door into her garden is open, but she seems content enough inside. And when she tires of the cards her piano lid is up and her music open, ready for her to start playing. Nor is she absolutely alone: there are pictures on the wall – her parents, maybe, on the right, or herself as a young woman with a husband; on the left, perhaps herself when young, with a sister. Everything appears to be neatly in place, just as she wants it: the bowl of apples on top of the piano, the two vases of flowers and the clock with its swinging pendulum, her cheerful rug with its pattern of four rectangles, one inside the other.
This rug appears at first sight not to be lying flat on the carpet; but looking more carefully, we can see that actually it has been painted over the outer, bevelled frame of the picture. Now we realise that the whole room, the whole picture, embraces the frame as though it were part of the canvas. And not just that: there are frames within frames. Across the top corner of the door into the garden, there is a thin black line, the mitred joint of a double frame. This double frame further encloses the woman playing patience while conversely suggesting that her isolation is more apparent than real: the innermost frame is as it were transparent, so we see the cat’s tail through it, not over it.
The relationship between outdoors and indoors is also important. Through the open door can be seen a vista of grass, hedge, trees, clouds and sky. The same vista is presented through the window and twice again, in the picture behind the woman’s head and as a reflection of the picture in the mirror above the piano. In this way she is continually surrounded by the landscape outside her window, even as she is cut off from it. By choosing it for a picture on her wall, she has opted for a virtual reality – just as the people in the other two pictures are her virtual (not her real) companions.
Structurally, this painting suggests containment, a room framed not once but three times. Yet the picture itself refuses to be confined by these frames: it spills onto, through and over them. Emblematically, therefore, the artist offers us an image not so much of self-confinement as of self-contentment. It’s taken less than two months for terms such as self-isolation and social distancing to embed themselves in our thinking and in the way we live now. This is why I find PJ Crook’s ‘Patience’ both challenging and reassuring: we would not have chosen to live like this but, accepting why we have to, we are learning how to make the best of it.
Chair, Friends of The Wilson
collection The Wilson, Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum purchased by Kenneth Lindley with a grant from Cheltenham Arts Council
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