We interrupt the irregularly-scheduled blog to talk about the passing of the physical form of a great spirit.
Of course, I mean Jeffrey Catherine Jones. Or as fans of my generation knew her (him), Jeff Jones.
I believe it’s public knowledge by now that Jeff was a man who transformed into a woman later in life. I’ll leave the specifics and lurid details to the Rich Johnstons of the world, but that’s all I need to know. What really matters is that one of the greatest fantasy artists of generations has left this plane of existence–and the world is a lesser place because of it.
(Since I am not yet fortunate enough to own a Jones original, I’ve chosen to illustrate this blog with some rarely-seen published work from decades-old programs. She might have cringed at some of these, but I see greatness in them that was only expanded upon. They’re presented to inspire and elucidate.)
I cannot recall when I first saw her work; possibly NATIONAL LAMPOON (on the strip “Idyl,” most of which went way over my head), or in one of her sparse comic book appearances during the 70s. But what I do remember is the phenomenal book, THE STUDIO. While not my favorite of the group (that would be Bernie Wrightson), there were some of her pieces that really struck me and stayed with me. The two most powerful were “Three Ages of Woman” and “Blind Narcissus.” The latter I came upon many years later as a huge four-foot tall poster, and man, that really spoke to me. I’m sure he used a model, but the way he captured her face, her expression, and those glassy, wistful eyes were all Art. (I only wish I’d bought it at the time.)
I just dug out and read Jeffrey’s excellent “Sketchbook” from Vanguard, which has a book-length interview of her with the also-great George Pratt (whom Jones mentored decades earlier). I’m an interview junkie and nothing is more pleasing, educational, enlightening and fun for me than creative people (painters, cartoonists, writers, comedians, guitarists, and so on) talking shop. Not only are the insights truly fascinating but the sketches and finished illustrations are a wonderful look into her creativity and creative process.
Among the things I learned:
–Since the ‘80s, Jeffrey hated doing sketches/drawings for paintings. Didn’t like to be nailed down or have a “roadmap” for a painting–it was the “journey” of painting that mattered. (This would cause issues with commercial work. The client would call after two days and ask for a sketch, and Jeff would bring in the finished piece!) She would not only sketch on the canvas itself, but do so in paint! She’s just grab a two-inch-wide brush and loosely stroke in where things were supposed to go. Sometimes she’d even have to move the main figure from one side to the other. The idea was to let the painting “speak” to her; have a conversation of sorts and let the piece dictate how it was going to turn out. This is similar to those writers who let their characters “write themselves” as far as determining where to take a plot.
–To Jeffrey, Art wasn’t about drawing, painting, composition, or anything specific. It was all about the totality; the whole package. A great painting with lousy drawing or vice-versa didn’t cut it; same thing with a technically perfect piece that lacked any emotion or impact. She always enjoyed (and strived for) the works that spoke to her and every viewer personally.
–She loved plein air painting (painting outdoors in the open air). Painting landscapes were like taking vacations–nothing to make up or worry about composition, anatomy, selling a book or so forth; she just had to focus on and paint the beauty in front of her.
–Her first book cover paintings were educational exercises. She simply didn’t know how to paint and learned on the job! There were so many publishers at the time that there was a shortage of illustrators. (Man, was *I* born too late!)
–Many of her figures were based on imagination. Even when using photo reference, she preferred using a dark room technique to produce “lousy” photos–ones where the figure was blurred and unclear. Just enough to show the basic lighting effects and overall form. All the specifics could then come from her imagination, unencumbered by the reference. (Very cool.)
–Jones learned most anatomy from life and George Bridgman’s famous book(s). She tried those by Hogarth, Loomis and others but Bridgman’s, which focused not on specific bones, muscles and morphology, but the underlying structure and movement. (So did Frazetta and others.)
–Ironically (or perhaps logically), she had a very poignant and insightful take on male and female dynamic. Basically it was females procreate so males must create. Humans by nature have a strong desire to “leave something behind.” To have a part of them live forever. Since men cannot have babies (and must believe the woman that a child is “his”), they pursued art, music, architecture and the like, to have a part of themselves live on. You should check out the book for the specifics, but I’ll say there’s a definite logic to the theory.
What I remember most fondly about Jeffrey was her spirited, interesting and opinionated posts on the Yahoo Group “Comicart-L”, a list of original art collectors, dealers and artists. She was always willing to have an exchange with just about anyone. I never sensed the aloofness or conceit that some pros exhibit. It didn’t matter if you were a 30-year veteran, a millionaire dealer, or an average comic-book fan living in your parents’ basement; she treated you like anyone else. If your opinions were informed and cogent, you got respect. If you came off ignorant, disrespectful and/or belligerent, she called you out or ignored you. And for that, I respected her a great deal; even when we disagreed. (She could also exhibit good humor, as we shared some delightful goofiness too. I really miss those exchanges. And learning from her.)
She had a cool idea of selling white T-shirts used to clean her brushes. Each was a different work of art in itself. I don’t know how they sold but now I wish I’d bought one.
The thing I will remember most about Jeffrey (other than her art, of course) are her views on framing and matting artwork for display. From what I recall, it’s basically that the color of the matte should resemble and match the color of the wall on which the work is displayed; NOT the art. While I fought the idea initially, the more I mulled it over (and read her reasons), the more I came around. It’s especially true if you have multiple pieces on the same wall.
Think about it visually: ten pieces of art on one wall, all different shapes, sizes and colors. If the mattes are all the same color (even if not the wall color, at least all matching), what will you focus on? THE ART. That’s the point. Think about it: If you have ten different matte colors, your eye will see a kaleidoscope of colors and the art will fight with the mattes for your attention. Who wants that? I think it’s a brilliant idea.
Which only makes sense considering Jeffrey Jones was a brilliant artist. On second thought, I mean IS a brilliant artist. A truly creative spirit like hers doesn’t just stop when the physical shell ceases to function. Whatever plane of existence she’s on now, I know Jeffrey is still creating beauty.
I only hope my mind is open enough to find it.
Thank you, Jeff!
P.S.: So what do YOU remember and/or like most about Jeffrey or her work? Feel free to comment below.