“Saint Francis of Assissi” (1999) in watercolor and India ink on paper by Benjamin Jones. Photo credit: Michael McKelvey
In the Religion portion of the show Jones makes a connection between religious and other states of ecstasy by decorating a paper church fan with cut-out magazine images of hunky, shirtless men in various states of beefcake ecstasy. In that early work, “Peace in the Valley” (1992), Jones’ cleverness and snark come barreling through.
There is urgent, accusatory work going on in the show too. In the mortality-themed section, “Early War Dead” (2007) lists in neat arrangements of text, the names of some of the soldiers who died during the Iraq War. As Jones has continued in his art-making it has become more engaged with politics and also tighter, more refined, more pointed in its effects.
MORE THINGS TO DO: Take a walk among the birds at Fernbank Forest
Jones’ art isn’t just an exorcism of the inner demons of self-doubt, childhood-hurts, family-drama and existential angst that torment so many of us. His artworks are also appeals of rage-against-the-machine to our better selves and reminders of greater injustices in works like “War Orphan” (2003) of a charred and traumatized child. “Benjamin Jones Speaking” conveys the power and need for art when so many of us feel like one of Jones’ immobilized, powerless creatures. What are artists, after all, but the members of society who keep us honest, who force us to meditate on the world around us rather than scroll through to the next distraction?
Now in his mid-60s and working as a grocery clerk on Tybee Island (“it’s like appearing on Broadway every night” he quips in a revealing accompanying video), Jones is every inch the iconoclastic Southern eccentric marching to his own drummer, defining his own happiness. If pain is a constant, then creation has been Jones’ release.
“Benjamin Jones Speaking”
Through Feb. 15. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Free to members and U.S. military with ID; $8 for nonmembers; $5 for students and seniors (65+). Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, 75 Bennett St., Atlanta. 404-367-8700, mocaga.org.
Bottom line: Personal angst and social commentary coalesce in this incisive and charm-infused show.