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JETHRO BUCK (b.1986)

Axis Mundi 2nd – 27th May 2017

CRANE KALMAN GALLERY LTD 178 Brompton Road, London SW3 1HQ Tel: +44 (0)20 7584 7566 Fax: +44 (0)20 7584 3843 /

I visited Jethro in his studio in Hackney Wick, next to the Olympic site, which he shared with a signwriter. All he had was a table and a stool. The table was covered with upturned mussel shells each containing a different colour or hue made painstakingly by grinding minerals or organic materials into a fine powder and carefully mixed with gum Arabic. I was impressed by his ability to concentrate in the face of the quite loud music being played by his studio partner. It’s exacting work using a squirrel-haired brush that comes to a point with a single hair for use on all the fine work. Since my visit he has decided that he works better on his own and has moved to another studio nearby, although this time he has found himself in the middle of a construction site and has to wear ear defenders. Jethro epitomises what we are seeking to achieve at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. The School’s mission is to teach, develop and research the skills and knowledge relating to traditional arts in order to ensure that they are kept alive for future generations. Jethro did an MA at the School to deepen his understanding of the provenance and context of traditional arts and the order of nature and the patterns that are manifested in nature - whether in the ripples created by a stone dropping in a pond or the structure of a flower or a fruit. Before studying at the Prince’s School he did a first degree at Falmouth College of Art in Cornwall and then worked as an apprentice with Ajay Sharma, a master Indian Miniaturist, in Jaipur, Rajasthan. He told me how his first day in Jaipur was spent making a white base paint, grinding kharia chalk to a very fine powder and then mixing it with gum Arabic to exactly the right consistency. When he politely queried how long he should expect to spend on this

task Ajay told him that his own first six months had been spent grinding rocks for his teacher - before he even touched a paintbrush. In Ajay’s studio Jethro discovered a new level of discipline and patience as well as the essential techniques relating to Indian Miniature Painting. His work applies the technique and appreciation of Indian Miniature Painting he has learned but with his own personal and contemporary expression and stamp. His subjects are natural landscapes, flora and fauna with a particular interest in our relationship to nature. His paintings are both an exploration of nature and a celebration of art and beauty. And they are very beautiful. He is one of the most positive, optimistic people I know, with a mischievous sense of humour which comes through in his paintings - he often includes an image of himself in his paintings, sitting observing the world, lying down reading or walking in a landscape. A series of Banksyesque angels, including one high up on the School that he painted from the rooftop in the small hours, can be found on buildings and walls around East London. When I asked him to tell me about this exhibition he told me, “The exhibition is about many things but I think essentially it is about Mankind’s relationship to Nature. I suppose I see it as a healing of our estranged relationship with nature. We've forgotten that we are nature, nature is us.”

SIR DAVID GREEN KCMG Chair of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and former Director-General of the British Council

“Nature is the ultimate source of creativity and painting is a celebration of it,” says Jethro, and looking at his paintings you can see just that: a celebration of nature’s creativity. He hands me a tiny painting of a hawk in flight. It’s about an inch long and extraordinarily detailed, and with my nose to the paper I can make out a pinprick of white, a glint of light in the hawk’s eye that brings it wetly alive. “You have to hold your breath to do it,” he says. This is his favourite part about painting miniatures, adding the detail at the end. He shows me a box of small containers, each guarding a brightly coloured mineral, powder or rock, all of which have come out of the Earth. There is a nugget of gold, and white-veined lapis lazuli, dusty red cinnabar, green-hued malachite and a soft chalk-like stone called kyaria. It strikes me that there is much alchemy in what Jethro does. He talks animatedly about the properties and origins of all the different minerals. Cinnabar gets redder the more you grind it and contains potentially toxic levels of mercury, whereas lapis lazuli, which is more expensive than gold, gets paler if you grind it too long. Jethro tells me about a different powder known as Indian yellow that was once made from the precipitated urine of cows fed only on mangos. There’s a vivid orange powder in one of the little pots that stands out from the rest. “That’s one of the synthetic colours,” says Jethro. “You can tell because they’re not so beautiful.” In India, they sometimes use this colour to paint the elephant god Ganesh who, Jethro was told, should shine like five thousand suns. “What’s nice about natural colours is that they have been in the earth for thousands of years. It’s like the earth’s already mixed the colours for you.”

Jethro learnt most of what he knows about the sorcery behind using natural paints and painting miniatures in India, where he could learn first-hand from a miniaturist master. He travelled there in 2010, not expecting to stay very long, but he ended up staying more than three months. In Udaipur, Rajasthan, he found himself wandering through the city’s back streets when he came upon some men painting in a workshop. There was a young boy preparing the paints, a man drawing outlines and another filling them in with colour, and at the end of the chain the master was adding the detail. Jethro asked whether they minded if he watched and he ended up staying three hours. He returned the following day and they gave him a squirrel hair brush. These brushes, which are cut from the tail of the Indian squirrel, are an essential tool for the miniaturist painter.The individual hairs come together to form what looks like a single strand of hair that curls like an eyelash. The brush is a sensitive tool that you have to be attuned to as in calligraphy, and you shouldn’t let other people borrow it, he says. “Going to India and learning Indian techniques opened my eyes to a whole new style and ethos behind painting. It’s the idea of an ancient but still living tradition that I really like because we live in an age of constant change,” he says. Jethro calls himself a painter highly influenced by Indian miniaturist painting. He applies principles he learnt in India and from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London to nature around him. “What I like about miniature painting is that you’re looking at it closely and from afar simultaneously,” he says. He loves the geometry and order behind nature, and demonstrates this with a painting of the eight-fold

symmetry of a horse chestnut leaf. He aims to paint something that can be explored and read almost like a scroll. “I like the idea of going nature-watching in my paintings,” he says. The Forest took six months to complete. In order to paint this, he went to Clearwell Caves to collect ochre. In October, he visited Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire near where he’s from. Then he went to collect ochre and iron ore pigments from a cave in Wales, and he began painting. But he injured his back, and he was told he could not paint for six months. By the time he could pick up his squirrel hair brush again, it was spring. This completely transformed the colours and life in the forest and also in his painting.

The Forest, 2014 Private Collection

I tell him I particularly like his painting of a fox flying a kite. How is an idea like that borne? When he was helping out as a technician in a school, his colleague’s children would occasionally come in. He would draw with them, creating whatever crazy whimsies they came up with.When unsure of the best way to depict a fox he’d been commissioned to paint, he called up Daisy, one of the children, and she said without hesitation:‘The fox is flying a kite and it’s really dark.” It is getting late and I leave him, painter and alchemist, to get back to mixing his minerals with gum arabic in preparation for his next little celebration of nature. There is something magical in these paintings. You sense it – the magic –suspended just beneath the surface of the ocean in ‘The Night the Whale Came to Falmouth Bay’. And you sense it, too, in ‘The Night Tree’s’ gold and indigo calm. It is

there in ‘The Flower Maker’s’ great explosion of colour, and in the stolen glimpse of an ascending bird. Time, perhaps that is what instils each of these paintings with magic and mystery, a time that expands, holds its breath, then separates, like light in a prism. ‘To paint in this way, you have to slow down.You lose yourself in the painting – and time is directly linked to your experience of it,’ says Jethro by way of explanation. Trees appear time and again in Jethro’s work. A vertical axis in nature is very rare, he says, but you find it in trees. They have long been revered as a convergence of worlds, with their branches reaching up to Heaven and their roots cast in the underworld. Mountains, too, unite Heaven and Earth. And one serves as centrepiece to the brilliant ‘Before We Knew It, We Climbed a Mountain’, a visual poem about sharing a journey, about kindness – about love. ‘I like to capture transition,’ says Jethro, ‘like the transition when the day is over but the night hasn’t yet begun. I like to capture something the camera can’t.’ Well, he captures that and more. He captures a world brimming with mystery and secrets, with awe and good humour – and, yes, with magic. Nick Kennedy

Fox Flying a Kite, 2011 Private Collection

What’s Going on Here, 2016 Oil on gold leaf Sanganer paper 17 3⁄4 x 15 3⁄4 inches / 45.1 x 40 cm

Before we knew it we had Climbed a Mountain, 2016 Natural pigment and gum Arabic on Sanganer paper 16 x 11 1â „2 inches / 40.6 x 29.2 cm

They call him the Flower maker, 2017 Natural pigment on antique paper 13 x 7 1â „4 inches / 33 x 18.4 cm

Man on a Mountain, 2016 Natural pigment and gum arabic on Sanganer paper 15 x 21 1â „2 inches / 38.1 x 54.6 cm

The Night the Whale came into Falmouth Bay, 2016 Natural pigment and gum arabic on antique paper 6 1â „4 x 12 inches / 15.9 x 30 cm

Cedar Tree, 2016 Oil on primed, gilded Sanganer paper 16 x 17 inches / 40.1 x 43.2 cm

White Cow, 2016 Natural pigment and gum arabic on antique paper 5 5â „8 x 7 5â „8 inches / 14.3 x 19.4 cm

Hello Bear, 2016 Walnut ink on Sanganer paper 7 1â „2 x 5 inches / 19 x 12.7 cm

Dream Time Tang, 2016 Watercolour on Sanganer paper 15 3⁄4 x 21 3⁄4 inches / 40 x 55.2 cm

Reading on the Carpet of Paradise, 2016 Natural pigment and gum arabic on Sanganer paper 14 1â „2 x 25 inches / 36.8 x 63.5 cm

Genesis, 2015 Natural pigment, gum arabic and 23 3â „4 ct gold and silver on Sanganer paper 28 x 22 inches / 71 x 55.9 cm

The Night Tree, 2016 Natural pigment and gum arabic and 22 3â „4 ct gold leaf on indigo dyed linen 48 x 46 inches / 121.9 x 109.7 cm

I wish I could fly, 2016 Natural pigment and gum arabic on Sanganer paper 17 x 24 inches / 43.2 x 61 cm

The Night I glimpsed Kartikeya flying round the World, 2016 Gouache, Natural pigment and gum arabic on antique paper 10 3â „4 x 15 inches / 27.4 x 38.1 cm

Mini Genesis, 2016 Natural pigment, gum arabic and 23 3â „4 ct gold and silver on Sanganer paper 11 1â „4 x 8 inches / 28.6 x 20.3 cm

Zebra soma tang fish studies, 2016-2017 Natural pigment and gum arabic on Sanganer paper 9 x 13 3â „4 inches / 22.9 x 35 cm

The Deer stared back, 2017 Natural pigment and gum arabic on Sanganer paper 10 x 15 inches / 25.4 x 38.1 cm

100,000 seeds, 2016-2017 Natural pigment and gum arabic on Sanganer paper 15 1â „4 x 21 inches / 38.8 x 53.3 cm

Snake river, river snake, 2017 Natural pigment, platinum leaf and gum arabic on Sanganer paper 11 1â „2 x 13 1â „2 inches / 29.2 x 34.3 cm

Pandit seu's Villagers dancing (with my mates), 2017 Natural pigment and gum arabic on Sanganer paper 12 x 32 1â „4 inches / 30.5 x 82 cm


Oxford, UK 1986 London

EDUCATION The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London 2012-2014 Apprentice to Ajay Sharma, Jaipur 2012 Falmouth College of Arts, Cornwall 2005-2008 Assistant Tutor, The Princes School of Traditional Arts 2014-2017

EXHIBITIONS 2015 2014 2013 2010

‘Light’ START Art fair, Saatchi Gallery, London Prince’s School Degree show, London Solo show, ‘Free Fall’ at Art Jericho, Oxford Solo show, ‘New work’, The North Wall, Oxford


Ciclitira Prize Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) scholarship The Farjam Foundation scholarship

"Special thanks to all the teachers who have ever taught me"

CRANE KALMAN GALLERY LTD 178 Brompton Road, London SW3 1HQ Tel: +44 (0)20 7584 7566 Fax: +44 (0)20 7584 3843 /

Jethro Buck  
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