Deeper into humanity

Viewers asked to second-guess at Springfield’s Jimi Jones art exhibition

By Tara Pettit

Every once in a while an artist comes along who radically challenges creative boundaries and redefines contextual aspects such as space, time and subject matter. It’s not often, however, that an artist comes along who has masterfully redefined and assimilated all three aspects into a body of work while weaving together timeless stories that connect centuries of human experiences.

Jimi Jones is that masterful storyteller.

Jones, a Cincinnati-based artist with more than 27 years of experience as a graphic designer and art director for Proctor & Gamble, brings to the Springfield Museum of Art what has evolved into quite a collection of legendary visual storytelling pieces in his showing of Faces and Stories: Paintings by Jimi Jones. The exhibition, expansive and bold, introduces Jones’ large collaged mural works, as well as “smaller, yet formidable portraits,” as noted by the art museum’s press release of the event, in a complete showing that reveals the artist’s “graphic sensibility with skilled draftsmanship to create a unique hybridization of painting and design.”

Stylistically, Jones expertly merges graphic design experience with natural painting abilities to create pieces that tell universal and legendary stories through a modern lens; also opening the door for personal reflection into contemporary events and issues.

From a subject matter perspective, Jones actually uses his unique style blends, along with iconic imagery and pertinent subject matter, to communicate powerful and contextual messages around current socio-cultural issues.

Springfield Museum of Art’s executive director Ann Fortescue recognizes Jones’ identifiable imagery as a trademark of his work, noting why it resonates so well with viewers.

“I think he often pairs seemingly contrasting figures in his paintings to stop us,” Fortescue says. “It’s almost like an art historical speed bump that causes us to pause or at least slow down.”

By inviting the viewer to personally translate his messages—artfully provoked by strategic graphic incorporations and style reminiscent of particular periods
in time—he not only creates a link that connects us back to our shared humanity, but empowers the viewer to become his or her own storyteller when they filter the messages through their own human experience.

“My objective is to create paintings that allow people to come and complete the paintings by being there,” Jones says. “They assess the painting and make it whole by coming up with their own story.”

Jones does not shy away from “big and bold” in any aspect of his work. In “Martyrs,” a large mural piece that illustrates the crucifixion of Christ and the famous assassinations of several public figures, Jones skillfully portrays each historical event in stylistic renderings that capture the essence of the particular time period.

These stylistic elements drive home the larger story Jones hopes to communicate of martyrdom, evolutionary progress and how that has influenced our human story today.

“I am trying to get people to see more than their point of view,” Jones says. “Each one of my paintings is suggesting a part of humanity that needs looking into.”

Similar to his larger mural collages, Jones’ portraits also contain rich stories, however from a more personal and autobiographical perspective. Each piece makes up a collection of faces that serve as visual benchmarks in his own autobiographical story.

Jones’ portraits feature individuals as close to him as personal friends to iconic figures he has seen as revolutionary pioneers within cultural and socio contexts, such as in his detailed depictions of John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix. With this range, Jones attempts to synthesize his own personal story within a larger cultural framework, while also allowing his viewers to bring their own diverse experiences to both the intimate and universally shared images and he presents.

“One person looking at the painting may discover things that other people may not,” Jones says. “There is no right or wrong way to interpret my work. There is only your answer to the question it asks.”

One of the most influential factors in Jones’ art, stylistically and in subject matter, has been the time he spent travelling the world where he had the opportunity to study most cultures’ great works of art.

He gained tremendous inspiration from his up close and personal investigations of what constituted many of the works found at The Louvre in Paris, motivating him to paint with such grandeur in similar mural-like fashion and with a storyteller’s eye for bold and impactful, yet meaningful imagery.

As Jones courageously puts it himself, “Instead of being intimidated, I decided to take it full on. So, ‘Martyrs’ is me looking at those great paintings and saying, ‘I can do that too.’”

Much like he found himself studying and assembling his own interpretations of these great paintings’ meanings, his goal is to trigger the same response in viewers of his work.

“Just by taking a little bit of people’s time where they are studying one of my paintings is a tremendous blessing,” Jones says. “If I could get someone to slow their pace a little bit to ponder something … that’s my goal. That’s why I am on this planet.”

With Jones’ personalized knack for connecting individuals to one common existence shared throughout history, viewers of Jones’ work will have no problem “completing the painting” by discovering their own story in each piece.

“A good story will allow you to see how it connects to your own life. I think that’s very much the case with Jimi’s exhibition,” Fortescue says.

Faces & Stories: Paintings by Jimi Jones is on display until May 29 at the Springfield Museum of Art, 107 Cliff Park Rd. in Springfield. The exhibition is free to members, $5 for non-members, $3 for students and seniors and free for children 17 and under. For hours and more information, please visit springfieldart.net or call 937.325.4673.

Tara Pettit is a regional journalist and communications specialist with a focus on the arts, social/environmental justice issues, and community activism. She is passionate about cultivating intentional community and engaging in collaborative creative projects that make healthy community possible. You can reach her at TaraPettit@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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