For more than 25 years, Atlanta artist Benjamin
Jones has created haunting images that reveal his own distinct visual
language. Inhabiting an intriguing, indefinable space, each poignant
portrait reveals the artist's innermost feelings and insecurities,
while touching a familiar place in all of us. Mixing whimsy with
horror, humor with malevolence, Jones' figures send messages about
the struggle of life and all its paradoxes. These seductive and
intimate drawings, paradoxical in themselves, create a tension between
the purity of their intuition and the refinement of their presentation.
Stylistic parallels have been drawn between Benjamin Jones' work
and that of graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as with
Jones' acknowledged influence, Jean Dubuffet and the works of Art
Brut. Yet, his drawings are undeniably his own. Larry Rinder, Curator
of Contemporary Art, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,
comments that Jones' drawings possess "
energy and vitality
- those impalpable feelings. One gets the sense that the work had
to be there, that it was compelled by some internal urgency on the
part of the artist." Seven pieces by Jones are in the Whitney's
In the last two years, with his artistic star on the rise, Benjamin
Jones has devoted full attention to his art, working "24/7
- 365," he says. As a keen observer of current events, Jones
keeps intricate journals, day and night, collecting images clipped
from newspapers, or gathered from his travels that become source
material for his drawings. But, in the end, Jones chooses an isolated
life, carefully guarding his time and energy for art making. This
recent series addresses ISOLATION and the various forms it takes.
While Jones has consciously chosen his
own seclusion, he identifies with those who have not. His subjects
are often forced into isolation because of their differences or
circumstances. For example, War Orphan shows a child isolated
from his parents. His body is actually the inverted skull of death;
his disfigured stick hands show his helplessness. One eye is blank,
the other is dark. The damaged little figure is swallowed up by
empty white space making a strong statement on the detachment
and tragedies of war. In the drawing Feral, a cat-faced
figure looks through the viewer. Jones recently cared for 13 feral
cats at one time, domesticating them and finding each a home.
To him, a feral cat is a symbol of isolation, often roaming alone
at night. "People can be feral as well, like a misanthrope,
or a misfit," Jones explains.
In Isolating the Disease, intricate
shapes reminiscent of cells under a microscope float around a
white-faced figure with Mickey Mouse ears. Those ears represent
corporate greed, according to Jones, using Disney as a symbolic
corporate icon. In his view, corporate excess is just as much
a disease as cancerous cells. Isolation Technique/Spider's
Web is a bold drawing of a spider-like figure with an evil
face, surrounded by its own intricate web, waiting for an innocent
victim. "It is similar to the way a rapist, pedophile or
murderer, lures its prey," Jones explains. Next to the spider
is a huge catch, wrapped "as if in a body bag" or isolated
in a cocoon.
Self Exile depicts a two-headed
figure surrounded by many dinosaur-like heads with ferocious teeth.
The dinosaurs symbolize anything foreign -- skin of a different
color, an unfamiliar language or unknown custom. To Jones, this
drawing speaks of self-exile due to ignorance. And, in Death
Row, 16 figures, all collages, stand in a line forming a powerful
parade of both the guilty and the innocent. Some deserve to be
there; others are wrongfully isolated. The piece reflects Jones'
uncanny ability to articulate both the beauty and horror of life,
and deliver it with compassion.