John Armstrong

The Tim Jocelyn Collection
The Museum for Textiles, Toronto

This exhibition of the late Tim Jocelyn’s work time-travels through the twentieth century. His appliquéd and pieced textiles suggest a post-war euphoria of images from Kandinsky through Déco to Modern-Style, and on to televisions, telephones, private airplanes and 45-rpm record centres. The classical leitmotifs of colonnades, urns and silhouetted, prime-of-life athletic types are presented alongside quotations of Jocelyn's local and international artist contemporaries. Curator Sybil Goldstein provides a generous selection of work from the last six years of Tim Jocelyn's production (1980-86) including screens, garments, banners, furniture and paper cut-outs.

Jocelyn, who died of AIDS-related illness in 1986, built a career over fifteen years as an artist and designer/producer of one-of-a-kind fashion garments. Jocelyn saw his garments in relation to other contemporary art production, and created a remarkable range of textile-based art and design.

Throughout Jocelyn’s gleeful skein of references preside Matisse’s découpages, in the colour complexion and rhythmic tenor of his appliqués, and in the recurring presence of an Icarus figure. In direct homage, The Matisse Screen (1982) recasts the ground of Matisse's Icarus from the artist book Jazz in black and blue, leopard skin pinwhale corduroy. Resigning Icarus (1985) has Icarus performing handstands in a four-part sequence that includes an Ascension, Descent, Beautification [sic], and Future [a spaceman] Icarus.

Jocelyn characterized his work as reflecting strategies of appropriation omni-current in 1980s art; but unlike much appropriation which assayed the deconstruction of the appropriated artwork to reveal its internal contradictions and ideological underpinnings, he dressed up his sources according to his own authoring, leaving them relatively unscathed. Jocelyn's citations are without didactic irony: he wrestles with unproblematized modernity.

More importantly, Jocelyn's subject may be the experience of his own life, his interest in the contexts and structuring of textiles. His working process was to collect a range of (predominantly) silks and leathers that he would tear or cut and then machine-sew together; he then worked them up through precarious or excessive sewing and distressing. Although his shreds of sewn fabric often evoked painterly gesture, the domain to which the work belongs is theatrical costume and the recuperative patchwork found in 60s and 70s designer-owned boutiques and craft shows. The expressively declarative and populist or even structurally questionable quality of the assemblages is part of a tension that passes through Jocelyn's heuristic invention and wit to the celebration of carefully juxtaposed, exquisite materials.

If the exhibition reflects a sunny Candide-view of the 1980s, it also looks forward to current interest in textile media. A hyper-consciousness of the body is never far from sight, whether it be: in the naïvité of the rhythmic neo-African-passed-through-the-School-of-Paris cyphers in the Ooga Booga series; in the sexually charged male body celebrated through an affectionate set of homoerotic associations in Postcard for A (1982); or in the foregrounded body of the wearer, apparent through the garments' rents and sheer passages. In an early 1980s review, David Livingstone epitomized the Arcadian site of the body within all of Jocelyn’s work, breezily suggesting that the garments were for “thin persons in hot places.”

C International Contemporary Art 49, Spring 1996