Friday, May 20, 2011

Jeffrey Catherine Jones 1944-2011

Back in the mid 1970s, when I was seriously caught up in learning to draw, a book called the Studio became one of my biggest inspirations. The Studio contained the work of four young fantasy artists, Barry Windsor-Smith, Mike W. Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, and Jeffrey Jones. I was familiar with Smith and Kaluta, and to a lesser extent Wrightson from their work in comic books. Jeffrey Jones name I didn't recognize until I began flipping through the book and realized that I had seen examples of Jones' work on book covers. That was my introduction to someone who would become one of my favorite fantasy artists.
Cliff emailed me yesterday to let me know that Jeffrey Catherine Jones had passed away the previous day of complications from emphysema. Jones was 67.
I always thought of Jones' early work as 'ethereal', because the worlds or Jones' early paintings seemed to exist in misty, undefined realms where backgrounds were suggested rather than rendered and sometimes even bled over into the foreground. The figures in these paintings often seemed to be just stepping from or about to disappear into these misty worlds. I came across these paintings a lot because next to Frank Frazetta, Jones seemed to be the go-to artist for sword & sorcery. Books by Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Norvell Page, Lin Carter, John Jakes and many less well known S&S authors were all graced by Jones' distinctive covers. (I mistakenly thought that a lot of these covers were watercolor. As it turned out, Jones didn't care much for watercolors and these paintings were actually done with thinned down oil paints used as washes.)
Later, in the late 70s/early 80s Jones book cover work took a radical change, seemingly done with heavy brushes and a palette knife. These bold covers, many of which were used on the works of Robert E. Howard were some of my favorites of Jones' paintings. They evoke classic illustrators like N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parish, but are infused with Jones' sometimes wry sense of humor, which brings me to an important point. Though Jones worked for many years in the commercial arts field, this was a true artist. Someone who drew and painted for the love of art. Sure there are some hacked out pieces, as there are in the career of any commercial illustrator, but there are far more covers that can stand on their own as paintings, regardless of what they were used for. And there are far more paintings done purely for their own sake. There are quite a few collections of Jones' work out there and you should seek them out.
Anyway, Jones has left us, reportedly surrounded by friends and by the wonderful art that remains for us to appreciate.

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