Ben Jones, a member of east coast American art collective Paper Rad, takes neon and comic to new oddities of meaning. With the hand style of the best graffiti artist and the conceptual, absurd rigour of a dadaist, his paintings, sculptures, videos and comics take a fresh look at figuration with their subtleties of form and unsubtleties of colour to make you think about the human form in new ways.
Some of Jones’ best works are just shitty sharpie comics. These you may have to scrounge up in old zines or find hiding in his studio, and every single one will be worth the effort. In the comics world he is renowned for his extreme economy of line and a sparse, deadpan wit that earned him inclusion in the new Best American Comics 2007 anthology. Video comics come naturally to him as well, and his first animated television show will be coming out on Comedy Central sometime soon. Many people are already familiar with his video work for the performer MIA or from his recent DVD from PictureBox Inc, Trash Talking.
But recently he has fused his talents into a large body of pictorial icon paintings. Looking back to early religious painting as a way to circumvent the current idiom of sequential narrative comic styles, Jones debuts major new gouache on canvas pieces this summer in a solo exhibition in Athens, Greece. These pieces are text-free pictographic scenes where humans, super-beings, and animals enact dramatic and suggestive graphic scenes.
Ben is at heart a conceptual artist, and this new style is one of many conceptual bodies of work he has produced over his past five years of exhibiting art. What unites his creations is a commitment to lo-fi and handmade objects; the videos are remedial flash animations, the zines inexactly Xeroxed with hand silkscreened covers, and the sculptures often cardboard knock-offs. Ben is part of a close-knit and often insistently undergound community of artists who live in subversive ways and make art about it. His most important artmaking tenet is to keep the integrity of the work consistent with the integrity of the life behind it. He may exhibit a huge body of work at a prestigious gallery like Pace Wildenstein, but he will most likely drive it there himself in the back of his Garfield and neon-filled Subaru.
His Providence Rhode Island beginnings, Fort Thunder connections, and Paper Rad, the group he is one-third of, are the crucial contexts for viewing his work. Paper Rad is a morphing collaborative art crew which produces performance, animation, music, comics, web sites, sculpture, clothes, dolls, photos and video, while taking it all out on tour.
It is more thicket of activity than gallery thing, and people are often confused or discomfited by the resulting exhibitions and a thorough exploration of the website www.paperrad.org might be helpful to get to know their vision. Occasional collaborator Cory Arcangel describes it as ‘a mess of a site. There were one million different colours, table art, animated background giffs, garbage colour blue links and pictures floating around in places only poorly coded HTML would know about. It was all at once a combination of Rammellzee, jodi.org, form art, Fort Thunder, pure go4it geocities homepages and pyramids. Like as if the 90s, extreme sports and My Little Pony finally decided to have a party for peace.’
Paradoxically, Jones is currently one of the most celebrated unknown artists around. He and Paper Rad have performed or exhibited at MoMA New York, Tate Britain, MCA Chicago, Deitch Projects, Pace Wildenstein, The New Museum, Team Gallery, the Liverpool Biennial and on and on. They have major books and DVDs out from PictureBox, a bevy of press cuttings and all the things that make an art star.
But whether his punk tendencies keep him from ‘playing the game’, or something really deeply subversive in the work itself keeps it always on the edge, Jones is an artist, emormous talent that he is, yet to be discovered by the general public.
Kathy Grayson is an artist, writer and director of Deitch Projects, New York