Mark Jackson makes paintings of unreal, abstracted, figures and faces. Their embodiment in paint is their essence, made up as they are of spills, swirls of paint, veiled layers, illusory droplets of light and gestural abstract passages. Conjured using an array of techniques, in their undoing and their coming together, they’re works that explore their own artificiality.

Recent paintings are of swimmers and divers ambiguous in their plight, immersed in a tangle of painterly gestures and washes. The dream subjects of water and falling, so aligned with the subconscious, are an ideal place to explore selfhood. In swimmer with dislocated consciousness, a figure is seemingly disoriented as the reflection of the moon improbably bisects her advance towards the horizon. The reflection, often used to point out the viewer, asserting their presence (as in Munch’s reflections of the setting sun), is instead off-kilter, perpendicular to its traditional axis. Both the protagonist in the painting and the viewer are dislocated by the composition.

How might the self be invested in painting? Imbued in gesture and brushwork, in a portrait, in a signature style, by heightening the experience of looking? On the basis that the self is a fragile and temporary construct, Jackson explores its transience by manipulating these tropes. In certain works the painterly gesture is harnessed and honed, then rendered flat and illusory – a distancing of touch. In other passages there are slights of hand – fragments that look like afterimages, hallucinatory imprints on the retina that come to hover over the painting, imparting a skepticism and deliberate uncertainty that reflects a wider philosophical stance.

Like modernists before, he seeks what might be fundamental to painting, just under different circumstances. The question of ‘what can it do now that’s unique?’ still holds, and the answer’s multiple – it’s slow, slower than the world wants it to be; it’s flat (still), but has the possibility to be scintillating and shifting; it’s materially present and unique, and so tangential to an ephemeral and dematerialised image economy. The work reflects on these specifics.

But these paintings also hope to embody the complexity of the world meeting thought, meeting materials. They aim to be radically and perhaps stubbornly open, unable to be pinned down, not illustrative of ideas. They are biased, partial and imperfect. Swimmers, divers, faces, couples. Simple themes. Repeated. Permuted. With each iteration a new singular intervention.