Georgia artist Benjamin Jones lives on Tybee Island, near Savannah, and is best known for his quirky drawings that combine his love of animals and nature with the harsh realities of life.
Jones’ art is currently on display at two different locations in Atlanta, one a 40-year retrospective titled “Speaking” at MOCA GA and the other an exhibition of new work titled “Salt Island” on view at the Whitespace Gallery.
When I first encountered artist Benjamin Jones’ work decades ago, I had some misgivings. His oddball drawings featuring bald, stumpy-armed, terrified-looking humanoid creatures seemed derivative of folk art and pulling inspiration from Bill Traylor, Jean-Michel Basquiat and a litany of Southern folk artists with deeply personal, private mythologies and manias.
It’s the teeth that get you. In Benjamin Jones’ drawings on paper, almost every figure shows its teeth, with every tooth articulated. These small pieces are made with graceful lines but disturbing ferocity. The smiles are false; the grin is also a terrifying snarl. The figures are cute and endearing, soft like a teddy bear or rabbit or cat. Many have small, round animal ears atop their heads, but their cuteness is a façade. They’re ready to sink their sharp incisors into you if you come too close.
When Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days,” she could have been talking about Georgia-born artist Benjamin Jones.
Jones, 65, now lives on Tybee Island but is back in his hometown (shout-out to Cascade Heights) for two exhibitions — a 40-year retrospective titled Speaking at MOCA GA (through February 15) and a solo show of new work titled Salt Island at Whitespace (through January 25). Speaking features large- and small-scale drawings, collages, embellished journals and sculptures. Salt Island offers drawings that cover a range of emotions.