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How do I categorise Jonathan Jones?

Just as I’ve been having trouble deciding which category to post this blog into, I have found it equally difficult to decide how to categorise Jonathan Jones. You see, it’s important because I want to talk about indigenous artist Jonathan Jones and I just don’t know which box to put him in.

Which is one of those sweet dilemmas – vaguely irritating, yet definitely challenging. More than being a comment on Jonathan Jones’ work, it’s an indication of the way we think about aboriginal art. We want to put it in a box and label it as Indigenous Art. Or as Primitive. Tribal. Quaint even. And for many, simply as a desirable commodity.

Jones, J. White Poles. 2003

Jones, J. White Poles. 2003

So it elates me that Jones doesn’t fit into a box. He identifies as an Aboriginal artist but he’s completely dot free. Jonathan Jones is an artist whose work is informed by his aboriginality rather than being defined by it. And in that there is a world of difference. And a breath of fresh air.

Jonathan Jones works, like many contemporary artists, with whatever the materials best communicate his needs. So far he’s been leaning heavily (and that is a pun) on the fluorescent tube – with all its ubiquity and its hard buzzing light. It’s one of the most consistent and sophisticated themes he uses and it’s these works that I find most compelling with their references to our recent and distance past – plugging us into a conversation about our history and culture and of course what it means to be aboriginal. It’s multi-layered and packed with significance and at the same time, so simple.

In case you had missed it, White Poles, with its clutch of vertical fluorescent tubes leaning casually against a wall, references the marks and geometric patterns used by indigenous artists in their traditional work. And not just any indigenous work, these marks are specific to the ones of Jones’ local ancestors, the Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri groups.  The work also grabs more than its title from Blue Poles of Jackson Pollock fame, and a series of works by Tony Tuckson made when he visited Melville Island and saw the indigenous grave poles there.

Another of his works was featured this year at unDisclosed: 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial called Lean to. This piece is both sculptural and architectural – a response to the humble ‘humpy ‘ – the much demeaned aboriginal sleeping abode.

There’s plenty of good resources about him out there – you can watch a video of his Cockatoo Island installation for the Sydney Biennale here and another here.

Jonathan Jones is an artist who is working outside the square; breaking new ground by providing for us a refreshing reinterpretation of his own culture while throwing light on the part non aboriginal Australia plays in that. And at the same time he’s bringing aboriginal art out of the desert and into the contemporary world. He’s clearly a player and one of our most valuable ones – keep an eye out for him!


2 Responses to “How do I categorise Jonathan Jones?”

  1. Julie Stoneman says:

    I love so many aspects of his work as it engages me on a multitude of levels….

  2. Insightful and informative. Love your writing style too. Lucas

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