Jon Jones is brimming with enthusiasm about his new works for Castle Fine Art. The new originals, limited editions and trial proofs are part of the Made in Birmingham collection, and are a mix of Jon’s memories of growing up in the city, his love of history and of the real Peaky Blinders gangs from there, whom he has studied in detail, and some of the many other figures who have captured his imagination.
Jon’s work ‘Polly’ features actress Helen McCrory, and he vividly remembers working on the piece. “I thought I’d finished it on a beautiful day when the sun was shining. I thought it just needed varnishing but I found myself thinking constantly about the portrait and thought that I needed to push it further; the urge to make it 'right' was really strong.
"The next morning I got a text from my son, with a news story saying that Helen had passed away. I am so glad I pushed the painting further, because in my mind it is a portrait of a strong, determined, beautiful lady. It sounds such a cliché that when someone passes everyone says: 'Oh they were a lovely person”, but the brief time I met her she really was. She signed and dedicated a little card for my son, posed for a photo and chatted away. She really was a beautiful, beautiful person”.
History buff Jon was inspired to create ‘Listen’, the portrait of Arthur, because it reminded him of the iconic World War One recruitment poster featuring Lord Kitchener. “It’s one of the most famous images of the 20th century, most commonly associated with inspiring young men to join the army. This image, designed by Alfred Leete, is famous for Kitchener’s pointing finger and the words ‘Your Country Needs You’, has become an icon of the enlistment frenzy. Over the years it has been mimicked and parodied many times, one of my favourites being Darth Vader with the slogan 'I Am Your Father'. I can imagine Arthur saying “By order of the…!”
Jon sees ‘Hush’, the portrait of Tommy, as one which complements the Arthur painting. “They’re powerhouse brothers, heads of criminal enterprise, shrewd, with magnetic personalities and intangible allure,” he explains. “David Cross, a historian at the West Midlands Police Museum, described the real Peaky Blinders as utterly ruthless, targetting victims indiscriminately and choosing anybody who looked vulnerable, and taking anything that could be taken”.
‘Who Wants To Be In Heaven’ takes Jon back to his teenage days. “I remember going to the cinema in the late 1980's to see a special screening of the 1979 film The Warriors. The storyline is basically about a New York gang who have been framed for the death of a gang leader and other gangs set out for revenge against them. They must try and get back to their home turf alive.
“After the film we stepped out of the cinema, into the dark hustle and bustle of the Birmingham night life, adrenaline flowing; we walked as a gang. For a brief time we were living the film, we were as one. We had to get from the city centre to 'our' turf…Kings Heath. The painting reminds me of this time when we band of brothers walked with a swagger, shoulders hunched, with an unblinking stare. Would we get back safe and sound? Well, we paid our bus fare and arrived back unscathed. Which was a relief, because none of us could have punched our way out of a wet paper bag”.
Jon’s passion for painting is unquenchable, and if something grabs his imagination, he gets right on with making an image. ”If I have an urge to paint something I will drop everything and paint it,” he says. “Once I’ve started working on something I focus all of my energy on that, and often the person I’m painting will help me.”
Although Jon is celebrated for his portraits of Birmingham criminals, his influences are much wider. When he was very young, he was creating portraits of John Inman from Are You Being Served?; from another end of the cultural scale he is a big fan of John Wayne. “In difficult situations, such as during the Covid epidemic, I always think, ‘What would John Wayne do?’.”
As an artist, Jon is influenced by painters including Rembrandt and Lucian Freud. “I love Freud, but at the same time I know he has a formula to all of his pieces. His work Is beautiful and I want to have that magic. I’m fascinated by painting eyes – I always start by painting the left eye in a portrait – and I always want to move people emotionally in my work. My dad told me: ‘Don’t strive for perfection; you’ll never reach it’, and I completely agree with him. Once I’ve done the best I can, I can walk away from a painting”.
As Jon is working in his fascinating studio, full of treasures bought from car boot sales, he uses his work as time to think. “Painting is a journey and a therapy,” he says. “I never used to believe in art therapy, but now I do. When I’m in the studio, it’s just me in silence, thinking about things and that time is an escape for me.
“I can never imagine not painting. Even if it wasn’t my job, I’d still be doing it.”
08/09/2022Jon Jones has kept true to his hometown and artistic genre throughout his career. Here, he explores the dark history of Birmingham through macabre colour palettes and atmospheric figurative works.
01/06/2022Claude Monet's unforgettable impressionist paintings of Venice have now been captured by world-renowned British artist John Myatt. Bespoke framed in a gilded Rocco-style and hand-embellished, these iconic and graceful limited edition artworks will add a touch of museum magic to your home. Discover more about Monet and John's inspirations here.
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