Joseph John Jones Biography

Joseph John Jones

American

1909-1963

Biography

Joseph John Jones 'Joe Jones,' was born on April 7, 1909 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was born on the edge of a slum neighborhood in Saint Louis, Missouri, where his father was a house painter. Joe quit school at age fifteen to work as a house painter, his father's profession. Jones was basically self taught as an artist, and at the age of 22 in 1931, began earning awards. He began exhibiting his paintings and prints around St. Louis in the late 1920's. He also organized and taught art classes for children of unemployed workers in 1934. At about this time Joe Jones became a member of the Communist party and a leading political activist throughout the decade of the Depression. His views were greatly criticized by mid-western conservatives and thus, Joe Jones left St. Louis for New York in 1935.

Many of Joe Jones's paintings and prints from this era (including five large murals) were commissioned by the government supported Works Progress Administration (WPA). In 1935, he held his first exhibition in New York, which was acclaimed by poet and critic Archibald Macleish: "There is more scope, more vitality, and more promise as well as more mastery, than most artists a decade his senior." Also, in 1937, he was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and his art was included in important exhibitions at the Carnegie Institute. In World War Two, Joe Jones worked as a war artist for Life magazine. During his career, Joe Jones's art underwent significant changes.

By 1951, for a new show in New York, Time was reporting the "angry man calms down." The paintings on exhibit showed "delicately colored, wiry-lined pictures of beaches, towns, and harbors... without a park of sorrow or anger in them." Jones (then, 42 years old) did not want to "sit on top of a reputation," had lost interest in Communism, and removed "class war" from his paintings. He became interested in delicate lines and low-toned colors, a reaction against "the preoccupation with light and shade that has victimized Western art since the Renaissance." By this time, he saw paintings as "space, not objects" and sought humanism not in subject but "of the line." By this time, he was already residing in Morristown, New Jersey.

By 1952, Time had cited him as one of 48 artists whose 250 paintings had been commissioned by Standard Oil of New Jersey. Time mentioned Jones with two other of the 48 artists by name: the other two were Peter Hurd and Thomas Hart Benton.

His early paintings and prints (many depicting laborers and farm workers) were at the forefront of both Social Realism and American Regionalism.

Until the end of the Second World War the large majority of Jones's prints were in the medium of lithography. Joe Jones made his first experiments in the newly invented art of the color silk screen in 1945. After that date he devoted much of his talents to this method. The possibility within the silk screen of creating large prints with full ranges of colors and tonal values contributed to a transformation of Joe Jones's art. Moving more towards a lyrical, almost calligraphic form of abstractionism, Jones brilliantly explored the relationships of line, form and color. His silk screens from the post war era are now seen as masterworks of their time. Prominent galleries that today include the art of Joe Jones in their collections are the Smithsonian Institute, the White House, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Butler Institute of American Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Joe Jones died the week prior to April 19, 1963, as reported by Time, 54 years old, of a heart attack in Morristown, New Jersey