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An Untraditional View of Virtues, Sins

by Catherine Fox
for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Christendom’s seven classical virtues — faith, hope, charity, justice, prudence, fortitude, temperance — and seven deadly sins — envy, sloth, pride, avarice, greed, lust, anger — have inspired artists through the ages. Now Benjamin Jones has a go in a wonderful series of 23 drawings at Barbara Archer Gallery.

Artists of yore often represented the sins or virtues as characters engaged in illustrative activity. Jones uses figures, too —-the distinctive assortment those with skeletal heads or toothy pumpkin (unhappy) smiles, some with elaborated cones for bodies or stick-figure limbs that populate all of his work.

“Hope” is as close to a traditional personification as he comes. He is less interested in illustrating virtues and vices than in commenting on their consequences in our world, as in the skeletal figure glowing radioactive red in “Nuclear Winter.”

Hope, 2007 Nuclear Winter, 2008

In fact, you frequently couldn’t tell sin or virtue apart without the title. The figure in “War Doll” has one leg —- a pointed reference to the ravages of war —- but then many of his figures have no limbs at all. There’s an underlying poignancy throughout: Jones seems to lack the carapace that most of us develop as a defense against the raw feeling that his figures embody, and he breaks it down in the viewer in such drawings as “Horror.”

War Doll, 2006 Horrors, 2006

Whether dark or buoyant, the drawings are a visual delight. The deft use of color and collage to punctuate a composition, the contrast of spare mark-making and dense patterns, and the crabbed lettering combine with a sense of urgency to create a most compelling body of work.

Bottom line: See this because Benjamin Jones is so good at what he does.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 21, 2008, Page D15

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A Matter of Style

by Catherine Fox
for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Drawing Conclusions."
Through Jan. 12. $200-$5,500. 10 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. weekdays or by appointment. Rialto Center lobby. 80 Forsyth St., Atlanta. 770-805-0242, www.comerartadvisory.com

Verdict: A diverse and lovely show.

There's always more than one show to see at the Rialto Center for Performing Arts downtown. In addition to whatever performance claims the stage, an art exhibit occupies the lobby. "Drawing Conclusions," the current offering, is worth a visit whether you are show-bound or not.

Curator Karen Comer has assembled a group of 10 artists who are diverse in their backgrounds and drawing styles. Grady Haugerud's dynamic abstract markings, Ruth Laxson's spot-on collages, Angelbert Metoyer's succinct figures and Etienne Jackson's drawings of sculptural forms are among the mix. Despite the difficulties of the chopped up, upstairs-downstairs space, the Atlanta art consultant has managed to frame some interesting juxtapositions, too.

It's always a delight to see work by Rodney Grainger. Though he is a relative newcomer as a professional artist, his large charcoal drawings reveal maturity in both skill and subject matter. In "Better Neighborhood," a man raking leaves in a driveway turns toward a snarling dog barely restrained by a fence that bounds two homes. We cannot see the man's face, but the dog's bared teeth are clearly visible. The image is emotionally charged, not only because of the proximity of man and dog and the flimsiness of the fence, but also because the man is black and the cur is white. Could this be a metaphor for race relations? It's a good bet, considering that Grainger draws from his childhood in Birmingham during the civil rights era.

The soft velvety quality of Grainger's charcoal contrasts with the precision of the sharpened pencil evident in Yanique Norman's adjacent drawings. Norman, who makes her public debut here, is self-taught, but she might be channeling surrealist Salvador Dali and symbolist painter Odilon Redon in inventing the creepy creature in "The Inflated Butterfly." A large eye is shaded by a tutu of bulging breasts, from which eyeballs leap out on feelers. It appears to levitate, as long melting arms drip toward the ground.

In juxtaposing these two artists, Comer plays against stereotype: Grainger, the white artist who depicts African-Americans; Norman, the black artist who gets under the skin to examine the psyche. She also pairs Travis Pack and Benjamin Jones, who share an aesthetic similar to the cultivated primitive style of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, but to different effect. Jones, the elder, works closer to the bone visually and emotionally. In contrast to Jones' delicate line drawings and vulnerability, Pack's are raw and tough. His approach works better in his paintings, in conjunction with color.

Speaking of which, paintings by Maggie Smith and Deanna Sirlin's photographs of paintings inject color into the mix, though I'm hard-pressed to see why they count as drawings. But take a look, and draw your own conclusions.

Photo
Yanique Norman's "The Empty Harvest" is among the works by 10 artists at the Rialto Center for Performing Arts.
Photo
"Better Neighborhood," by Rodney Grainger, could allude to race relations.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 18, 2005, Page L10

Benjamin Jones at Gray Matters

by Charles Dee Mitchell
for Art in America


What's most disturbing about Benjamin Jones's figure drawings are the arms. It's not the slightly lumpy, bald heads on the predominantly female characters. Nor is it the staring eyes or the two rows of evenly spaced square teeth that are often encased in elaborate wraparound braces. In their most extreme form, the arms begin from a single point at the shoulder and are formed by two slightly diverging lines that end in a cluster of stubby fingers. They suggest no more strength than a partially deflated balloon, and some are so short that the figures appear to be amputees. The arms are pitiful and leave the bodies, whose faces often express extreme fury, defenseless.

"Figure," this Atlanta-based artist's first exhibition in Dallas, was a concentrated presentation of 15 graphite drawings occasionally heightened with colored pencil. All the works were from 2003, and the largest was 14 by 10 inches. Looking at these figures as they glare back at you from the paper, you sense that Jones works in a state of ferocious concentration. A lightly traced line may define the head or other details, but as the drawing progresses, he usually ends up bearing down hard on the paper to get a strong black line. Most figures wear dresses with elaborate crosshatched patterns, although dense scribbling defaces a few. When he colors a drawing, as in Yellow Figure (Adult), he turns the whole image into a solid mass of color, covering skin and clothing in the same heavy yellow. This is the way a child colors, but Jones stays within the lines.

References to children's art, outsider art and art brut are inevitable when discussing Jones's work. But with a 1977 BFA and an exhibition history starting in 1985, Jones is certainly not an outsider artist. Nor does it seem right to call this work faux-naif, as though he is exploiting the look of outsider art for its "authentic" effects. He is, rather, an artist who has taken his appreciation of outsider art to create his own technically sophisticated and psychologically compelling style.

Nothing happens by chance in these drawings. What may at first seem like eccentric placement of the figures proves to be a canny use of the small scale Jones works in. His signature, in an unvarying combination of uppercase, lowercase, script and printed letters, is always a part of the composition. When Jones leaves evidence of previous compositions erased but still partially visible, they function as lost elements of the figures' personalities. In Revisiting Childhood, he has made a tiny additional head inside the head of the main figure. It suggests a doppelganger or split personality. Another figure bears a cluster of additional heads. They have lit on her face and roll down the back of her neck. Her obliviousness to them is unnerving. But it is not Jones's goal to make the viewer feel comfortable.

[Jones also had a solo exhibition of 22 drawings at Barbara Archer Gallery in Atlanta last spring.]

COPYRIGHT 2004 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

Art in America, November 2004, Page 186

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Atlanta, Georgia

by Rebecca Dimling Cochran
for Art Papers


Being alone can be a positive experience, a chance to reflect and perhaps to grow. There is also a darker side to being alone, particularly when imposed by others. Benjamin Jones' new drawings (Barbara Archer Gallery, May 8- June 26, 2004) explore the various emotions associated with "Isolation," as the exhibit is titled, particularly the loneliness, hurt, and damage that it can cause.

The exhibition theme connects a wide range of subjects, from mental health (in works like Suicide [2003] and Isolation Cells A-G [2003-4]) to social conventions (in No One to Play With [2003], Self-Exiled [2003] to war (War Orphan [2003] and Isolated by Borders [2003]). An avid reader, Jones often pulls his subject matter straight from the headlines. He neverdirectly refers to a particular person or event, but his figures are painful reflections of modern society.

In Isolation Cell C, a simple figure stands with its head tilted to the side. There are no arms sprouting from the torso, a symbol of the figure's total helplessness. For everything that he does, he is at the mercy of others. The few lines that form the facial expression describe a level of resignation and despair. A swath of acid yellow across the face adds the only real detail, perhaps a symbol of the sickness that lies within this mental patient's head.

Benjamin Jones, Isolation Cell C, 2003, graphite, colored pencil on paper, 6 by 4"

Jones' economical marks have the ability to communicate a profound wealth of emotion, often by what is absent as much as what is present. Unlike more traditional draughtsmen, who mold their figures on the page by buliding areas of light and shade, Jones creates his subjects using strong outlines and flat planes of pattern or color.

Acid yellow, acid green, and bright orange appear often in the series, as if the vibrant hues stood for the sharp pain and anguish Jones is trying to represent. Since most of Jones' drawings begin with graphite and white pencil on a plain white background, the introduction of even the smallest amount of color makes a large impact.

This is particularly true in Death Row (2004), where sixteen drawn and collaged subjects stretch across the page, as if they were lined up in invisible cells. Color is sparingly used to help individualize the figures' physique and dress. At the same time, the desolation and anguish in the facial expressions confirm that a common fate connects them.

In an attempt to save a group of feral cats from what may be a similar fate, Jones recently took in, spayed, nuetered, vaccinated and found homes for more than ten neighborhood cats. Believing that their life as abandoned, lonely animals is not that different from humans, Jones included a few drawings inspired by them in the show. Black Bear, the one cat Jones kept for himself, is the subject of Feral (2003), in which a black and white cat head rests on top of one of Jones' armless bodies, insinuating its vulnerability and need for compassion.

Jones studied art in college and crafts his works well. The economical placement of the figure on the page is carefully considered and intentionally balanced with the artist's signature, which plays a prominent role in every piece. But the immediacy of his drawings makes it apparent that his strokes are more felt than thought. The marks seem intuitive, as if they came from a place deep within him. His ability to communicate such emotional depth without excessive detail or physical dimension makes the work truly compelling and a real accomplishment.

Art Papers, Nov/ Dec 2004, Page 41

Museum Scores Big with Donation

by Catherine Fox
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


It's a big moment for folk art in Atlanta. The High Museum of Art has announced both a major gift and a new folk art curator.

Thanks to longtime patron Judith Alexander, the High is now the definitive repository for the art of Nellie Mae Rowe. The late Vinings artist, whose paintings are admired for their vibrant colors, sophisticated design and joie de vivre, occupies a prime spot in the pantheon of self-taught artists.

"Nellie Mae Rowe is one of the most important self-taught artists," says Brooke Anderson, director and curator of the Contemporary Center of the American Folk Art Museum in New York. "Her work is fanciful, mystical, feminine, private and communal. To be all those things makes her contribution to 20th century self-taught art significant.

"She figures prominently in our collection, and we organized a one-woman show in 1999."
Alexander, Rowe's passionate advocate since their first meeting in the late '70s, has given the museum more than 130 pieces. The gift encompasses the simple line drawings of animals that were her first efforts and the mature paintings. Sketches, a sketchbook, archival papers and photographs are included as well.

The collection is a prize worth several hundred thousand dollars, a High official said, and other museums courted Alexander, but she always wanted it to come to Atlanta.
"People love Nellie there, and it's her home," says Alexander, a former art dealer who now lives in New York City. "And Atlanta is my home."

Alexander, whose father, Henry, was one of the High's founders, has given the museum a number of gifts, from the '70s drawings by minimalist Donald Judd to emerging Atlanta artist Benjamin Jones.
The museum will devote a permanent gallery to a rotating exhibition of Rowe's work on the fourth floor, which reopens next summer. The display will show off her spirituality, whimsy, sexual humor and political bent as well as the richness of her visual vocabulary.

"The High already has a strong collection of Southern African-American self-taught art," says Anderson, "so this is an appropriate addition."

Not only a good fit, the gift also increases the stature of a collection that already towers over that of any general art museum in the world in both quantity and depth. The 1996 gift of 130 objects from retired Georgia-Pacific board chairman T. Marshall Hahn is the nucleus. The museum's holdings include the largest repository for Howard Finster's multifarious art as well as superior strength in such key figures as painter Bill Traylor, sculptor Ulysses Davis and painter Sam Doyle.

The collection has a new shepherd in Susan Mitchell Crawley, recently appointed associate curator of folk art.

This is a second career for Crawley, 49. She left Atlanta's corporate world in 1996 to get her master's in art history at Georgia State, which she will receive in December. The Griffin native fell in love with self-taught art while researching and writing the catalog entries and biographies for the Hahn collection. She has been interim curator since Lynne Spriggs left last year.

"I am impressed with her passion, her command of detail and her knowledge of the Hahn collection," says David Brenneman, chief curator, who conducted a national search for the position.

Crawley, who wrote her thesis on Bill Traylor, is planning a folk art exhibition from the permanent collection at the downtown High to complement the upcoming Romare Bearden retrospective, which opens Feb. 5. She is also curating a Jimmy Lee Sudduth exhibit for the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, to open in January.

Her main task at the moment is the reinstallation of the High's permanent folk art collection, which will command almost half of its fourth floor. It was her decision to scrap the chronological survey that was in place and replace it with a display that shows off the museum's depth.

Finster is on her mind at the moment. "Earlier exhibits were too spare," she says. "To capture the spirit of the work, the display needs to be more cluttered, denser."

She wants to bring a rigor to this young field. She plans to de-emphasize the attention paid to the artist's biography except as it relates to the work and add more formal analysis.

Crawley won Alexander's respect during the period in which they finalized the Rowe gift. "She is intelligent and perceptive," Alexander says. "I liked the way she looks at things."

Folk art dealer and former High curator Barbara Archer is excited about the High's choice. "She doesn't have a lot of experience, but she's brought herself up to speed very quickly. She's passionate about this job as well as folk art. I think she will be great."

Photo: Two of more than 130 pieces donated to the High Museum (above, below) exemplify Nellie Mae Rowe's mystical images. / Photos courtesy of High Museum
Photo: Two of more than 130 pieces donated to the High Museum (above, below) exemplify Nellie Mae Rowe's mystical images. / Photos courtesy of High Museum
Photo: Susan Mitchell Crawley was recently appointed associate curator of folk art at the High Museum. The Griffin native has been interim curator since Lynne Spriggs left last year. / Photos courtesy of High Museum
Photo: The High Museum will devote a permanent gallery to a rotating exhibition of Nellie Mae Rowe's folk art. / Courtesy of High Museum
Photo: Nellie Mae Rowe was renowned for her whimsical environment -- her house and garden were filled with dolls, sculpture and decorations of her own making -- but it was destroyed not long after her 1982 death.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 19, 2004, Page B1

A Peopled Solitude

by Catherine Fox
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Benjamin Jones is floating, as he says, on cloud nine.

And no wonder. He received a prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Award this year. Major institutions -- the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, as well as the Philadelphia, Indianapolis and High museums -- have acquired his drawings, and some of their curators have purchased ones for themselves. The icing on the cake, to judge from his enthusiasm, is that actress Edie Falco of "The Sopranos" bought one, too.

The greater world is discovering what we locals have always known: The kid's got talent.

OK, so he's not really a kid. The Atlanta native, who lives an hour's drive away in Hampton, is 50 years old, and his hair is turning to salt and pepper. He suffered a heart attack when he was 46. Still, his open, impish face gives a youthful impression. More importantly, his art taps something primal, something intuitive, that worms its way through the acculturated, rational shell of adulthood -- his and ours.

His materials are basic: pencil and paper. He favors a crabby line and simplified (sometimes stick) figures. When he adds color, it is unmodulated and crayonlike and stays in the lines. Childlike perhaps, but not the happy-face variety, as his current show at Barbara Archer Gallery demonstrates.

In "War Orphan," for example, a lone figure occupies the eloquently empty page. Conjured out of two yellow circles and some needle-thin lines (useless appendages), it bespeaks vulnerability. Look closely at the blotches on the yellow "body," and you'll see a skull.

Jones riffs on isolation, the show's theme, in drawings with titles like "Death Row" and "No One to Play With." He is no stranger to that kind of isolation, having been a lonely child himself. Yet, as other drawings suggest, there's a positive side to a solitary existence -- something he also knows firsthand. In his case, it allows him to devote his time to his intense and abiding passion: making art.

Jones lives what friends have called a monk's life.

He starts his work day at 3 p.m. by reading three newspapers, the AJC, The New York Times and USA Today. He clips pictures and pins them to the wall or puts them in his journal. And it's not just academic. There in the privacy of his studio, Jones feels the world's troubles as his own.
"Whatever is in the air goes in the work," he says.

After a dinner break at 6 p.m., he works until as late as 5 a.m. "I love working at night when everybody is asleep."

Drawing, he says, is never a struggle, always a joy. He just goes from one drawing to the next, savoring even the smell and feel of the pencil.

"I don't plan," he says. "Discovery is what it's all about."

Though he appears to be a sociable sort, Jones claims to be shy and prefers animals to people. He devotes a good bit of time to rescuing feral cats, training them and finding them homes. He also takes care of some 60 mallards, who live at the lake near his house.

"I feed them and watch their babies," he says.

In fact, Jones went to West Georgia College intent on becoming a veterinarian. When the science classes proved too daunting, he turned to art. Fortunately, he found a perceptive, nurturing teacher in Don Cooper.

"I didn't teach him anything," says Cooper. "He came in drawing that way."

"He let me stay at home and work, instead of coming to class," says Jones. "The others were doing still lifes and flowers, and I was making big cats with netting all over them and Joan Crawford hats. West Georgia didn't have a drawing major, so he designed one for me."

A trip to Italy was a powerful experience. "All that art I had never seen," he says. "It was the mother lode. I was crying the whole time. I came back knowing I had to work even harder."

A five-month stay in Paris was even more pivotal. There he discovered Jean Dubuffet, who championed Art Brut (outsider artists). Here was a fellow traveler, a trained artist who had a deep kinship with the self-taught. Artists such as Nellie Mae Rowe, whom Jones calls "our Matisse," and Jean-Michel Basquiat (the late graffiti artist turned painter) gave him permission to "go for broke," he says, to make art from his gut and from his heart.

If his work is tinged with poignancy, it is also reassuring. Resilience conquers fragility. Life -- and art -- goes on.

"Isolation" continues through June 26. Barbara Archer Gallery, 1123 Zonolite Road N.E., Atlanta. 404-815-1545.

Photo: "I don't plan," says Benjamin Jones of his work method. "Discovery is what it's all about." Jones recently received a prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, and his drawings have been acquired by major museums. / PHIL SKINNER / Staff
Photo: In Jones' "War Orphan" (left) a lone, vulnerable figure occupies the eloquently empty page.
Photo: Like all Jones' works, "Death Row" (above) offers cogent commentary on a topical issue.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 23, 2004, Page L3

Homegrown Gems Sparkle in High Limelight

by Catherine Fox
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


"Contemporary Southern Drawings From the Permanent Collection."

Through June 20. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. $10; $8 students and senior citizens; $6 ages 6-17; free for members and under age 6. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-4444.

The verdict: A terrific show.

The High Museum's mission is to think globally, as suggested by current exhibitions of Egyptian and African art. But "Contemporary Southern Drawings From the Permanent Collection" presents convincing evidence that it pays to act locally as well.

Curator Carrie Przybilla has assembled 40 works by 24 regional (but largely Georgia) artists, both self-taught and trained, that suggest the high caliber and diverse interests of our homegrown practitioners.
Such as the trifecta whose work is displayed on the back wall. Susan Cofer, who builds her images out of hundreds of parallel lines drawn freehand, is represented by two small pieces that suggest both her connection to nature and her rhapsodic relationship with the act of mark-making.

In contrast to Cofer's precision, D.E. Johnson lets loose with scribbly charcoal lines onto pages of trading stamps. With help from the titles, such as "Happy Nappy," the thick strokes coalesce to suggest dreadlocks and Afros, a reflection of her preoccupation with the African-American experience.

Benjamin Jones, a recent Tiffany Foundation grant recipient, takes a more introspective, psychological approach. The clown, an archetype for masked emotions, is a recurring subject, depicted here with a childlike line and vivid color that suggests his connection to outsider artists, particularly Nellie Mae Rowe, whose drawings hang nearby.

Przybilla, who has a gift for installation, makes many such instructive juxtapositions. She includes a pair of drawings by Medford Johnston that involve the same patterns but are executed in different media (ink and charcoal), scales and density. Here, the intimacy of drawing comes to the fore; the viewer senses the whirring of the artist's brain. In another example, including a 1958 and 1988 drawing by Genevieve Arnold shows the trajectory of her career.

The show is studded with gems. George Lowe, the voice of Space Ghost on Cartoon Network, is definitely a comer. His large drawing, a quasi-aerial landscape, is dense with color and pattern, and quite assured. South Carolinian Tarleton Blackwell, the only non-Georgian mentioned here, is represented by an adept piece that contrasts the fantasy of animals in children's literature with the reality of farm life.

As you wander through the third-floor gallery, note that many of the Atlanta artists' works were purchased with funds from the H.B. and Doris Massey Charitable Trust. The object of this gift, a challenge grant in honor of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center's 25th birthday, was to add cutting-edge, primarily regional art to the collection. It was a godsend, says Przybilla, because it is often more difficult to find patrons for smaller items than for big-ticket ones. Kudos to Joe Massey for his vision and his dough.

Individual drawings can't stay on view for long because of their sensitivity to light. Still, it's sad to think that these pieces will go back into the obscurity of storage in June -- safe, as one artist put it, from the wear and tear of people's eyeballs.

The High has many and bigger fish to fry, and that's all well and good. But surely it could find a way to devote a bit of real estate in the museum's expansion for a small gallery for rotating displays of contemporary regional art. Work like this deserves a place at the table.

Photo: A childlike line defines Benjamin Jones' "Small Clown."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 2, 2004, Page L2

Delightfully Drawn

by Catherine Fox
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


"Benjamin Jones: Works on Paper, 1987-2002"

Through Nov. 9. 11 a.m.-5 p.m Wednesdays-Saturdays. Price range: $300-$8,000. Barbara Archer Gallery, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 27. 404-815-1545.

The verdict: Splendid.

Benjamin Jones' exhibition at Barbara Archer Gallery is a joy to behold: one wonderful drawing after the next. He only gets better.

The Hampton artist works in a variety of modes, usually small in scale. Intimate pencil drawings torn out of his sketchbook. Pages or postcards of text -- his thoughts and memories, often in a stream of consciousness, embellished with collage and drawing. Pieces dense with bright, Crayola color and patterns.

Jones is an academically trained artist with the soul of a vernacular one. He acknowledges a debt to Jean Dubuffet, a trained artist who was inspired by art brut (outsider art), and he has learned something about color and composition from Georgia's Nellie Mae Rowe. His combinations of skeletal figures and block printing bear a resemblance to the work of crossover graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Like his vernacular-artist brethren, Jones is more interested in expressing what is in his heart, whether it be a reaction to world events or his own raw emotions, than in competing with or commenting on art-world vogues and movements.

He works in series, a number of which are represented in this show -- themes that often deal with pain and death. Most of the show, however, is given over to the artist's most recent effort, the "Circus Series." What with the opportunities for inventiveness and color and the undercurrents of poignancy -- the sideshow freak, the mask of the clown -- this is a rich theme for him, and he mines it with an obsessive outpouring of images.

Most of them exhibit a pared-down aesthetic, a figure or two on bare paper. Many of the characters share truncated arms and an oversize head with a face-jug baring of teeth that is not exactly a smile. Some are delicately limned and enhanced with passages of dense patterning, splashes of vivid color or collage. Others are rougher, more childlike.

In three of the pieces, Jones abandons his intimate scale for large collages. "Midway," one of several Jones works acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, is a tour de force composition built up of many, many small drawings.

If, however, I had to pick one piece that best embodied the spirit and emotional power of this artist's work, it would be "Sept. 11, 2001 (Naked; Innocence Lost)." It is a simple yet eloquent pencil drawing of a naked boy covering his private parts, floating alone on a blank sheet of paper. His tilted head, his uneven, hunched shoulders, his downcast eyes, the stops and starts of the line that describes his body -- everything about the drawing bespeaks vulnerability. It is a portrait of America stripped of bravado and confidence and of the artist himself -- who feels almost too much for his own good, and finds solace in making art.

Photo: "Small Clown," in graphite and colored pencil, is another in the ''Circus Series."
Photo: "Circus Family," part of the "Circus Series" in the "Benjamin Jones: Works on Paper, 1987-2002" exhibition at Barbara Archer Gallery, exemplifies the series' inventiveness, color, poignancy and spare aesthetic.
Photo: "Sept. 11, 2001 (Naked; Innocence Lost)" by Benjamin Jones.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 1, 2002, Page Q3

Georgians in the Spotlight

by Catherine Fox
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The Georgia Triennial

Through June 7.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 1-5 p.m. Saturdays. City Gallery East, 675 Ponce de Leon Ave. N.E. 404-817-6981.

The verdict: Mostly good work by mostly tried-and-true artists.

At the prestigious yet raucous 2002 Whitney Biennial in New York, it was anything goes, from seances to fake gurus. The Georgia Triennial, by contrast, plays it straight.

The 30 artists whom guest curator Louise Shaw selected for this survey of the state -- the first in 11 years -- stick mainly to painting, sculpture and drawing. They value craftsmanship and aesthetics rather than pushing envelopes (or making new ones). They evince a seriousness of purpose. And they are, for the most part, well-recognized.

As is to be expected in a show of this kind, there is no encompassing theme. It is loosely organized, however, so that the work in one of the galleries of City Gallery East relates to Nature and the other to Culture (my terms).

Nature is used as a metaphor and a vehicle as well as a subject. Michael Murrell simultaneously celebrates its beauty and mourns its vulnerability in the nine graceful blooms of his evocative floor sculpture "Requiem." Jill Larson's large, handsome, almost abstract photographs are from a series of close-ups of decaying and dead cut flowers. For Leslie Snipes, nature is a vehicle to make wonderful drawings. In "Furrows 3," hundreds of charcoal marks coalesce to depict rippling concentric forms. The furrows fill the page so that the perspective and scale are teasingly ambiguous.

Culture covers a broad spectrum of interests, from Southern racial history to Sept. 11. A number of the strongest pieces are small in scale. Atlanta artist Benjamin Jones' poignant self-portraits as a clown, drawn with his distinctive sophisticated primitivism, and D.E. Johnson's proud feminist drawing and collage on old saving stamp pages are among them. So are Rocio Rodriguez's small drawings. Though best known for her large paintings, she achieves an appealing intimacy, delicacy and wistfulness in these daily studies of architectural ornamentation, seen in Rome, that remind her of Cuban colonial architecture she left behind.

A group show of this size is going to have its ups and downs. John Mitchell's shack-as-homage-to-survival is territory mined by another Georgia artist, Beverly Buchanan; his piece doesn't add to the genre. There is nothing illuminating or even witty about the installation of vinyl furniture and videos of Japanese animation by Didi Dunphy in collaboration with Dreamspan. Alan Schechner tries to get viewers to question their relationship to the Holocaust in a piece that refers to the identity cards of victims given to visitors at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. But the projection, in which pictures of Nazis and Jewish collaborators and faces of victims fade in and out, does not induce that kind of questioning. In fact, it's hard to understand at all.

It's easy, of course, to question individual choices or mourn the omission of a favorite. This exhibition, organized by the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, is, after all, one person's portrait of the state. If I were to make one complaint, it would be about tone, not quality. A certain soberness pervades the show, and I can't help missing a sense of joy.

The only exclamation point here is Betty Bivens Edwards' triptych monotype, "Just Desserts." It's a panoply of treats you'd find at a church picnic: bundt cake, pecan pie, pineapple upside-down cake. This colorful piece is bursting with calories and pleasure. Whatever its feminist underpinnings, it's not profound, but it sure is sweet.

Interestingly, Shaw does not present any surprising discoveries; the best of the group are well-known here. In fact, work by several of these artists is also in the current show at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

Photo: Michael Murrell's sculpture "Requiem" (above) both celebrates and mourns the vulnerability of nature.
Photo: D.E. Johnson's "Eve Asserts Her Independence," on old saving stamps, in the Georgia Triennial at City Gallery East.
Photo: Benjamin Jones' poignant self-portrait as a clown.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 26, 2002, Page Q6


The Art of Afterward
In the Wake of September 11, Horror is Refracted Through Creative Prism

by Catherine Fox
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


On Sept. 12, Joe Peragine began working with unusual urgency. Turning to animation, a fairly new medium for him, he started making video clips with no specific piece in mind. About a month later, he had made two three-minute cartoons: "9/11," which re-creates the attack on the World Trade Center, and "Ring of Fire," about the events that followed the attack.

On Sept. 12 and for two months afterward, Rocio Rodriguez couldn't work at all. Art seemed meaningless. When she returned to her studio in November, she began producing dark, monochromatic abstract paintings that a visiting friend found very melancholy.

In their divergent responses to the tragedy and horror of the terrorist attacks, both Atlanta artists represent typical reactions to cataclysmic events.

The most famous example of an immediate response to a monstrous occurrence is Picasso's "Guernica," the monumental cry of pain he began upon hearing about the 1937 bombing of this Spanish town during his country's civil war. Although the most powerful work usually comes after time for reflection, Picasso's quickly conceived painting is an antiwar icon that still resonates. Students at Gilmer Middle School in Ellijay, who saw a reproduction in Kathleen Thompson's art class, thought it could have been about Sept. 11.

Thompson used "Guernica" to help her students express their feelings about the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. They took cues from Picasso's symbolism and composition for their 12-by-25-foot mural, "9/11," and they made another mural, "Hope," as an antidote.

In contrast, Peragine's approach is decidedly unmonumental. His "9/11" is like a kiddie documentary. Playful line drawings depict the event and the experience of watching it repeatedly on television. Bouncy pop music plays in the background. It is disconcertingly insouciant, but the key scene of the dazed rabbit-man who sees the images of the burning buildings and falling people even when he closes his eyes shows its basic seriousness. Think: Art Spiegelman's Holocaust comic strip, "Maus."
"The cartoon," says Peragine, 40, "is as unreal as the event itself."

Many artists are using their work to express sorrow and anger. Most of the images -- from several continents and on view at Plexus Atlanta Virtual Museum, an online gallery/class project conceived by Spelman College professor Arturo Lindsay -- are commemorative in feeling. Angels are recurring motifs, as are flags. A bird of prey carrying a human head flies across one of Benjamin Jones' many drawings on the subject, which has become an obsession for the Hampton artist, who says he cried for a month after the terrorist attacks.

"Sept. 11 changed me completely," says Jones, 47. "I am so proud to be an American artist. I never felt that way before. It makes me work even harder."

After making images of death and destruction, Jones takes a break by drawing trees. "I need beauty in my life," he says.

Like Jones, Pam Longobardi, assistant dean of fine arts at Georgia State University, decided that business as usual was not possible after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. Her central theme has been western society's unhealthy distance from nature and the rest of the world. But Longobardi, 43, felt that the attack made the same critique, in a horrifying way. It thus made her work redundant.

Since then, she has taken a different, perhaps more hopeful, tack. The web forms in some of her recent paintings envision the interconnectedness of things.

"I still worry about our consume-and-take-over mentality and how it affects the world," she says, "but blatancy doesn't make sense. I've become more meditative, inward."

Sometimes the most fervent response has no recognizable image at all. Some say that the work of abstract expressionists was a response to World War II (the cataclysm of their recent past) and the threat of nuclear destruction (the cataclysm of the future). Like them, Rodriguez, 49, sees abstract art as the best means to deal with the events of Sept. 11.

"When I have done the most personal work, paintings that have addressed certain things in my life that have affected me [such as exile from Cuba], that was the most abstract work I have ever done," she says.

"With Sept. 11, I also could never speak about that loss in a literal, direct way. It would have to be within some form of a symbolic language . . . that would encompass not the specifics of that event but the emotions that those events conjured in us all."

And that will take time. Vietnamese-American artist Dinh Q. Lee, 33, barely escaped the savagery of the Khmer Rouge when its soldiers invaded his town in 1978. Many friends and relatives did not. It wasn't until the early 1990s that the artist, who divides his time between Los Angeles and Ho Chi Minh City, could bring himself to even think about what had happened. After studying the history and culture of Cambodia for a couple of years, he began to face the subject in his work.

The pieces he exhibited at City Gallery at Chastain this fall are based on the heartbreakingly stoic photographs of Khmer Rouge prisoners. In one piece, Lee cut the photos into strips and wove them together, along with other images that allude to the victims' culture, in the manner of traditional grass weaving.

Responding to Sept. 11 may even take a generation. German artist Anselm Kiefer and French artist Christian Boltanski, who have made some of the most powerful post-Holocaust work, were born at the war's end. Kiefer's massive paintings of the 1970s and '80s use German mythology and fire symbolism in his effort to deal with his country's past. Boltanski, whose family is Jewish, has for the past couple of decades used old photos of children in his altarlike evocations of loss.

"They grew up with it in their consciousness," says High Museum of Art modern and contemporary art curator Carrie Przybilla. "It's about memory, not the battlefield description."

Time mutes, if not heals, wounds. It also brings perspective. As artists get beyond dealing with their raw emotions, they may take the next step: transforming the personal into something universal.
Picasso was that rare artist who moved easily between immediacy and metaphor. For most artists, says Przybilla, "it will take time to find the things that are resonant, to find something that talks about the human condition."

> ON THE WEB: Galleries of adult and children's artwork done in response to Sept. 11: www.pavm.spelman.edu
The Legacy Project studies the creative and intellectual response to cataclysmic events. It has several online exhibitions:
www.legacy-project.org
Photo: Reflecting on tragedy: A scene from Joe Peragine's cartoon "9/11."
Photo: A scene from Joe Peragine's "Ring of Fire," about events following the New York attack.
Photo: Pam Longobardi's "Blank Page."
Photo: Benjamin Jones' drawing "Bird of Prey."
Photo: Detail from "9/11," a mural created by students at Gilmer Middle School in Ellijay.

Photo: "Meditative, inward": Pam Longobardi's "Mnemonic Pole."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 30, 2001, Page L1