Jonathan Jones (artist)
Jonathan Jones (born 1978) is a Sydney-based Indigenous artist who has made extensive contributions to the contemporary Aboriginal art scene in Australia. The Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Victoria have acquired works by Jones.
Jones was born in Sydney, New South Wales in 1978, and continues to live and work there after spending parts of his early life in Bathurst and a small town near Tamworth. Jones is a member of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi peoples of South-East Australia, and his identity as an indigenous artist has become central to his practice. Jones’ grandmother encouraged him to explore his heritage, and this process of self-learning formed the foundations of his artistic career. His grandmother was a very influential figure in his life who taught him to be proud of his heritage. These sentiments have informed his purpose as a creator of public art installations, and can be seen through his poignant interventions into sites around Sydney, which he reveals have deeper histories than the colonial ones present in the national popular imagination.
Jonathan Jones is a multi-disciplinary artist, working with a range of different materials and technologies to create installations, interventions, public artwork, prints, drawings, sculpture and film. While Jones works across a wide range of media, his intentions are consistently explicit. Jones is known for his use of everyday materials in minimal, repeated forms as a way to explore Indigenous traditions and perspectives. This motif of minimalist, linear forms represent both the traditional and the contemporary. Jones’ fascination with this dichotomy has deeply informed his work, and has led him to pursue projects which reveal connections between a site's historical and current usage. In order to realise these projects, Jones’ work is often grounded in research and collaboration with other artists and remote communities to develop art that acknowledges local knowledge systems and specific concerns. Jones has previously worked in the communities of Boggabilla in Northern NSW and Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands of North-Western South Australia. These collaborations have led to an interrogation of more themes throughout his work, namely, the relationship between the community and the individual, as well as private and public. Jones generally grapples with these ideas though site-specific works such as public art installations. Overall, Jones' work has been involved in preserving and reviving the cultural memory of the First Nation's people of Australia through art that is contemporary and timely.
Jones' work represents, embodies or engages with a site. Works that are site-specific suit Jones’ practice as he is able to alter public space, creating interventions into Western narratives of the land, and challenging cultural discourse at large. In other words, Jones reveals the hidden histories of a city through his art.
‘Barrangal Dyara’ (Skin and Bones) is a prime example of the way Jones has used public art installation projects to expose an element of Australian history which has been suppressed by cultural amnesia. ‘Skin and Bones’ is a representation of the 19th Century Garden Palace building in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney that burned down, destroying many Indigenous artefacts collected along the colonial frontier. Masses of white, sculptural shields cover the space where the building would have stood, creating a large scale, decorative memorial. The motif of the shield acts as a visual metaphor for the cultural loss that occurred, and also demonstrates that Jones, through his art, interprets the site's history through an Aboriginal lens. This work was Kaldor Public Art Project’s 32nd project, and aligns strongly with John Kaldor’s drive to create large scale, ambitious art installations which continue to push the boundaries of contemporary art.
As well as working on ephemeral, site-specific, public art installations, Jones has also worked extensively with the medium of light. He works with fluorescent light tubes to further explore the connections between individuals, communities and land, as well as ‘illuminating a bridge between cultures and the space of exchange.’ Jones often employs light to further accentuate surface textures and strong geometric lines. To the viewer, these works can appear as tasteful Western interpretations of minimalist compositions, however, for Jones the crosshatching and chevron motifs are also direct references to Aboriginal concerns of country and community. Further, these themes as well as his repeated use of line allude to the Aboriginal line designs specific to south-eastern Australia, which have been continuously appropriated in the Western canon. Jones states, "In this region the line is used to create patterns and designs, often carved into wood, skin and the ground."
Jones’ work ‘Blue Poles’, 2004/2010, addresses the role of appropriation within Western art movements - directly through Jackson Pollock's iconic 'Blue Poles' - and clearly demonstrates his keen adoption of light mediums. Jones’ use of light in this work underlines the paradox of the traditional and contemporary in a poignant way. The minimalist, structured light tubes appear contemporary, while the motif of the lines speaks to his Aboriginal heritage: connections with the land that date back thousands of years.
Jones' work has been exhibited in more than 60 major Australian and international art museums, galleries, festivals and biennales. The National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Victoria have all acquired works by Jones.
An exhibition of colonial artworks alongside the tools and objects of Aboriginal people, accompanied by carefully researched text and commentary by Jones, writer and researcher Bruce Pascoe and historian Bill Gammage, is the subject of an exhibition entitled Bunha-bunhanga: Aboriginal agriculture in the south-east, mounted in the Art Gallery of South Australia's Elder Wing and the Museum of Economic Botany, as part of Tarnanthi 2019. Jones created a series of outsize grindstones within the Museum building.
- "Artist Interview: Jonathan Jones". Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
- "Blue poles". www.ngv.vic.gov.au. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
- "Jonathan Jones". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
- Bullock, Natasha. "Jonathan Jones". MCA. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
- "Jonathan Jones". UNSW Art and Design. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
- "Jonathan Jones". UNSW Art and Design. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
- "Jonathan Jones". National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
- "Project 32 - Jonathan Jones". kaldorartprojects.org.au. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
- "Jonathan Jones Barrangal Dyara (Skin and Bones) 32nd Kaldor Public Art Project". UNSW Art and Design. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
- "Jonathan Jones". Tim Melville Gallery. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
- Marsh, Walter (1 October 2019). "Jonathan Jones and Bruce Pascoe offer a timely illustration of Aboriginal lands on the cusp of colonisation". Retrieved 17 October 2019.