“I can’t paint or draw or sculpt pretty flowers and children on the beach. That’s just not in me.” – Benjamin Jones as quoted by the “Savannah Morning News.”
Benjamin Jones (b. 1954, Atlanta) belongs to the long tradition of artists drawn to the darker aspects of humanity. From Heironymus Bosch to Francisco Goya and Francis Bacon, these artists do not seek to soothe. Beauty is not their purpose. Everything is not going to be OK.
On behalf of those who share a similarly grim world view, thank goodness for them.
A wide selection of Jones’ drawings, sculptures and mixed media pieces are on view and for sale now at Laney Contemporary in Savannah, Georgia (1810 Mills B Lane Blvd.) through December 22, 2021.
Jones artwork and biography prove difficult to separate. The gallery describes his work as, “mixing whimsy with horror, humor with malevolence.”
Jones was molested as a child. Bullied in school. He served as the longtime caretaker for sick mother. He became suicidal after suffering a heart attack.
He did always love animals, and they show up frequently in his work. The friends he never had?
An overreliance on biography to interpret artwork necessarily leads to such too-obvious conclusions.
Jones now lives alone with an old cat on Tybee Island, Savannah’s beach town.
Isolation pervades his work. Figures often appear, almost always alone. They are roughly drawn, crude, flat. Between their grimaces and bald, occasionally skeletal, appearance – along with his use of text – comparisons to Jean-Michel Basquiat are impossible to avoid. I see James Castle as well.
Jones’ work overall has an “art brut” feel to it, although trying to define him as an “outsider artist” would be a mistake. Jones earned a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of West Georgia and is well versed on art history with works on view in this show titled for Picasso, Dubuffet and Mondrian.
Jones’ preference for paper, cutouts and mixed-media compositions gives his work a material quality. Onlookers visually “feel” his drawings. An entire series produced in 2020 takes paper bags as its background.
The exhibition’s greatest surprise are his small, vibrant, Styrofoam rabbit sculptures. Until realizing the affixed pins and pompoms give the otherwise cute bunnies the pin-cushioned look of the Coronavirus, you might think the vibrant rabbits a joyful departure for the artist.
Jones discovered the rabbit forms while rummaging through boxes with long forgotten contents during the COVID-19 lockdown which inspired the series.
In its torment, Jones’ artwork serves as a reminder for others who may be suffering that they are not alone. In that sense, it can provide comfort.
About the Artist
Born in Atlanta in 1954, Benjamin Jones lives on Tybee Island, GA. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of West Georgia.
Jones’ works can be found in numerous museum collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Indianapolis Museum of Art; Atlanta’s High Museum of Art; the J.B. Speed Museum in Louisville; the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans; and MoCA Georgia in Atlanta.
Jones received a 1994 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Southern Arts Federation. In 2003, he was awarded a grant from the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation in New York and is the only artist in Georgia since 1979 to receive this honor.
Jones’ work has recently been celebrated in Atlanta with two exhibitions: a 40-year retrospective entitled “Benjamin Jones Speaking,” curated by Barbara Archer at MOCA GA and simultaneously with a selection entitled “Salt Island” at Whitespace Gallery.
His work is also currently on view at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
What do you think?