originally published: March 2, 2017
*Unable to take decent photos of this show. Apologies for lack of good images*
The Hendersonville Arts Council presented a survey of recent work by Ted Jones that places Christian iconography in dialogue with imagery related to the African diaspora. The majority of subject matter focuses on figures, narratives and parables of the New Testament. A small number of wooden sculptures and metal repoussé reliefs relate to African religious practices, but the bulk of the show consists of block prints and reliefs dedicated to New Testament ideology. It is not a subversion of either pursuit; instead it is a reciprocal relationship common within the diaspora and less acknowledged within the larger canon of Western Christian art.
Repoussé and block printing require similar approaches in execution. Both focus on a practice that works in reverse. With repoussé, the artist hammers down on the back of the metal surface to raise it up on the front side. The process of block printing requires carving away what is not wanted. Both techniques reverse the image upon completion. Jones has a deliberate, finite language of marks and pattern that he engages in both print and repoussé. This continuity helps connect the two bodies. All marks made by the artist are sculptural, whether hammering away or carving into a block. The differences are found in the results: metal relief versus a print on paper. His mark-making is almost wholly pattern-driven, in the form of steadily-paced, vertical hatch marks, irregular circles arranged in grids and controlled waves. There is an even hand at work and patient execution. This is not emotive woodblock gouging like Emil Nolde or Tal R.
The visual language of art in relation to the Gospels is firmly established at this point. There is always room for interpretation and invention but there are almost two millennia of influence pressing upon artists that take up the subject. Whatever decision an artist makes in visually interpreting the Gospels more than likely has a precedent. Jones’ depictions of the apostles are medieval in proportion and created by a system of pattern that could be derived from something akin to a Mande tradition of textile patterns. Each apostle is presented in a stoic, closed pose fashioned in a mathematical palindrome of measurement (51x15”). Each pose is frontal, looking out, not to be worshipped but to be respected and followed and “listened to”. Within a small vocabulary of marks, Jones is able to individually distinguish one apostle from another, not only in their iconography but also in their manner of dress. The robes of the apostles are unique. Examining the bottom half of each garment reveals a different, minimal composition- symmetrical and totemic.
Jones’ visual organization changes between icons of saints and Biblical narratives and parables. Even in his depiction of Pentecost, the apostles are presented frontally, in this case as a collective unit receiving the descent of the Spirit. However when dealing with story, Jones more often than not uses a single figure in the foreground facing away from us, towards the action. Whether it is the miracle of the fish and loaves, Jesus walking on water or the raising of Lazarus, the figure of Christ or someone is placed with their back to us and the event unfolding further beyond them. They act in ruckenfigur-fashion, as mediators between the message and us. These figures, turned away, do not block our view or distance us from the action. They remove the fourth wall and place us in the scene. We are given access to the Word and the miraculous and not reduced to passive observers.
The installation in the second floor gallery allows for parallels in the narrative works to emerge. The black sun in The Sower is balanced on the same wall by position of the white moon illuminating Jesus walking on the water. The wrapped figure of the risen Lazarus is mirrored further down the wall by the positioning of fish and loaves in another print. The gift of life is presented in two different forms balancing one another. The miracle of resurrection equaled by the miraculous provision of sustenance.