Friday, November 9, 2012

Self-Taught Southern Artist M. C. "5¢" Jones (1917-2003)

Another self-taught Southern artist that I find appealing is M. C. "5¢" Jones (1918-2003) who was born in Eagle Shute, Louisiana.

Jones spent most of his life as a laborer picking cotton & doing yard work on the J. W. Lynn Plantation, between Belcher & Gilliam just east of the Texas border in Louisiana. He acquired the nickname "5¢" because he was only about 5 feet tall.

He dropped out of school at the age of 13 to work on the plantation. He explained, "I had to plow." Picking 300 pounds of cotton in a day was typical for him.

When he was 22 in 1940, Jones had a dream in which God, Jesus, and a flock of sheep appeared; and he was instructed to use his talent to paint for the glory of God.

He proceded to capture rural farm life of the American South in his narrative watercolor & oil paintings, which detail both the harshness & beauty of such activities as hog slaughters, watermelon harvests, cotton picking, & church celebrations.

Some of Jones' paintings of plantation life contain some unusual twists, such as African Americans overseeing white laborers. They are not the typical romantic stuff of most memory paintings, which is why I simply do not like memory paintings.

I look for his rarer portraits of family members, which are among my favorites, as well as a few small, geometric design paintings which he only rarely did. His larger, more intricate works, devoted to religious themes such as Noah's Ark, the Crucifixion, & the Garden of Eden, are often fine.

M. C. "5¢" Jones died in a nursing home in March of 2003. His art is included in the collections of the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution and the Louisiana State Museum.