ARTIST:

Jonathan Baldock

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Jonathan Baldock
Andromeda, 2007
Salt-dough, pins,ribbon, dolls eyes, polystyrene, colouring, paint, synthetic hair
29 x 42 x 26 cm plinth 121 x 42 x 26

How Jonathan Baldock goes about making his sculptures is a little unorthodox to say the least. Looking for a cheap substitute for clay that didn’t require the cumbersome processes of a kiln, Baldock returned to his roots and adopted a technique he learned, not in the hallowed halls of the Royal College, but in Sunday school. Each of his sculptures, which could easily be mistaken for fine porcelain or ceramic, are in fact made from a play-dough mixture of flour, salt, and water. Baldock begins each piece by sculpting a head, and then lets it dry in front of his radiator (they won’t fit in his oven!) before adding the details in successive layers; their rich matt hues that would be the envy of Wedgwood are derived from food colouring which he mixes into the dough at the kneading stage.

Jonathan Baldock
Adriana, 2007
Salt-dough, pins,ribbon, dolls eyes, polystyrene, colouring, paint, synthetic hair
22 x 34 x 34cm plinth: 134 x 24 x 24 cm

Baldock uses this elaborately rudimentary technique to explore a contemporary kind of ‘primitivism’. Looking at different cultures from all over the world, his figures are adorned with all manner of exotica - florets and bijoux, armour plates and masks - and speak of tribal rituals and tortures all the while proclaiming distinct Englishness. The overall effect is one of fiercely unnerving nobility: a quasi Jane Austen meets Wicker Man. Titled after a nagging lovelorn wife whose husband has strayed in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Baldock’s Adriana, wearing her heart on her brow and with a tear spilling from her eye, becomes something of a coquettish monstrosity. Bejewelled with savage markings made regally chintz, she’s made up to the nines with pleasing ‘win-back’ cosmetics, all begging dolly eyes, cuckold clown nose, and rouged gaping mouth firmly tied shut.

Jonathan Baldock
Androgny (Bearded), 2007
Salt-dough, pins,ribbon, dolls eyes, polystyrene, colouring, paint, synthetic hair
20 x 35 x 28 cm plinth 106 x 18 x 18 cm

Baldock’s busts are inspired by the rigid imperial poses of classical Greek and Roman sculptures. Baldock uses this stylised and commanding format as a foundation on which to layer a myriad of cross-cultural and gendered references. His portraits are always modelled on white male features – an archetypal generic – that when ornamented become flirtatiously androgynous. For Baldock this desexualisation becomes a matter of fetish’s fashion. In his process of working, dough becomes both body and its mortification: sticky, wet, heavy, and suffocating. It’s beaten and pummelled in a ritual of embodiment, purification, and preservation. As Baldock explains, “It’s not only beauty, it’s about playing with perceptions of materiality.”

Jonathan Baldock
Betty Crocker (I Miss You), 2007
Salt-dough, pins,ribbon, dolls eyes, polystyrene, colouring, paint, synthetic hair
22 x 34 x34cm plinth 130 x 24 x 24 cm

Baldock doesn’t begin each work with a preconceived idea about its final form; his sculptures are developed through their material manipulation, with the initial workings of the dough suggesting a possible character for embellishment. Betty Crocker (I Miss You) is an homage to the world’s favourite baker. Far from the many glamorous housewife faces the brand has presented over the years, Baldock’s rendition of the fabled Mrs. Crocker is by far more hilariously apt: an aging and cracking bulwark of a woman, with make-up literally caked on with icing-piped decoration, she’s the manifestation of one of her own easy-mix recipes that never quite look as good in real life as they do on the box.

Jonathan Baldock
Lost For Words, 2007
Salt dough, synthetic hair, dolls eyes and mixed media
32 x 21 x 25 cm plinth 93 x 19.5 x 19.5 cm

In their craftsmanship, Baldock’s portraits are simply exquisite. Lost For Words resolves as a true English rose, with aristocrat nose and virginal complexion, literally made from powder. The figure is crowned with actual hair extensions, and the eyes are glass replicas taken from a life-sized doll. Baldock often combines ‘real’ elements with his floury base to give his characters a sense of uncanny veritas. Drawing from the fanciful frights of Victorian gothic romance novels, it’s as if a fair maiden is mummified or bewitched, muzzled and frozen for all eternity. Baldock places the sculpture on a chipboard plinth; this both accentuates his humble making processes and gives the suggestion of sawdust or straw, setting his haunting characters in the realm of rural folklore and its anxious idyll of well-kept secrets.

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