A Washington Color School Reunion. Scrape. Grind. Shape.
-Mark Jenkins in the Washington Post, July 2014
The third artist is Bill Jonas, a painter whose experience in commercial art is evident in such fanciful pictures as "Swan Dive," in which pink nudes dive from the backs of swans through rings of fire into a shark-filled turquoise sea. The vivid hues, repeated motifs and hard-edged style resemble record-cover and T-shirt illustration, although the undulating bodies suggest Cole's bronzes as well. Jonas is also the show's scraper. He has executed a series of small oil-on-wood paintings, predominately red, in which the pigments have been abraded. These evocatively weathered pictures fit well with the sculpture, not only because of their physicality but also because they, too, make skillful use of absence.
A Thirty Year Retrospective. March 2005
-Eric Bookhardt review in Gambit Weekly, March 2005
Snap, crackle, pop! There's art, and then there's the art of what's hot -- the sizzle. What's hot in art is whatever strikes a chord with the public, whether or not critics and museums take it seriously. Trickier still, art can be hot in some places and not elsewhere. Latter-day postmodern drivel is the rule in New York City, but in New Orleans or Chicago most folks could care less.
Painter B.F. "Bill" Jonas came to New Orleans from Chicago in 1988 and, after a couple of stints with galleries in the early 1990s, he became something of a local institution on his own. That's saying something considering his expressionistic paintings of weirdly hued figures with pouty, insinuating expressions and fleshy, sausage-like limbs can seem as freaky as a race of human Weimaraners. In this Bruno Gallery retrospective you can trace their development, like the evolution of a mutant species.
Clearly, German expressionism, along with Chicago imagism, was a major influence. His klieg-lit Jerry Lee Lewis, in which the Killer belts a number into a sea of bilious white folks, suggests a mass rally of blue-eyed soul fanatics in 1930s Nuremberg. Since the early '90s, Jonas has focused largely on scenes of nightlife and riders. The riders appear in paintings such as Equestrians, in which big, fleshy guys ride red horses that hark to German expressionist Franz Marc, whose ruddy stallions may have been role models. But in Zebra Riders, a bunch of cafe society types look like they just woke up to find themselves astride wild zebras in a scene that could have given Freud fits of insomnia.
Jonas' nightlife canvases hint at literary roots. In fact, the dapper, effete figures around the pianist in Mozambique Lounge, or the chanteuse in Café Vial, not to mention the leggy chorus girls with chartreuse skin in Grand Finale at Club Mozambique, all recall Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories (best known to Americans through the Broadway musical Cabaret), set in that city during Hitler's rise to power. The parallels have more to do with tone than content. His Lebensborn painting of 32 views of the same Jonas-like visage takes its title from a Nazi project to propagate the Aryan race. Curiously, most of Jonas' work is a Lebensborn in reverse: Almost every face in almost every painting is a variant of his own, but here it is surreal decadence, not Aryan purity, that is propagated. And he seems to have struck a chord; it takes an unusual artist to make such work, and it takes an unusual city to embrace it as New Orleans apparently has.
Doug MacCash review in Lagniappe
(Arts section of the Times Picayune), March 2005:
If you remember last year's Jazzfest poster at all, you probably don't remember it fondly. Part of the disappointment over Los Angeles artist Paul Rogers' insipid rendering of Harry Connick Jr. was the knowledge that New Orleans artist Bill Jonas had produced a painting of Jerry Lee Lewis that was to be used as the 2004 Jazzfest poster, but was rejected at the last minute to accommodate Connick's Fair Grounds star turn (which was ironically rained out).
Even though we couldn't see the Jerry Lee Lewis poster at the time, it was a safe bet that Jonas, known for his strange New Orleans nocturnes, had produced something more biting, beautiful and appropriate than the flowery phantasm of Connick.
If you want to lay eyes on the outstanding Jazzfest poster that might have been, visit Jonas' retrospective exhibit at Robert Bruno Gallery, through March 30. He envisions the devilish Lewis as a starkly lit, angular visage cracking like a lightening bolt at the edge of a stage, while the soft, round, Martian-green faces of his awestruck supplicants look on from the Orchestra seats.
Jonas admits he had expected poster producer Bud Brimberg to instruct him to tone down the garish color scheme a bit, casting a more wholesome light on The Killer's early career. But even with that predictable mellowing of his otherworldly rock-'n'-roll vision, Jonas' poster would have been 1,000 times better than what we got. This year's poster of Buddy Bolden by Bill Hemmerling is an improvement over Rogers' design, but falls a bit short of Jonas'.
As the rest of the retrospective reiterates, Jonas is a fabulous artist, with a style that's been consistent over 25 years, since he moved to the Crescent City from Chicago. His strange world view may owe something to the science fiction surrealism of Chicago master Ed Paschke (1939-2004), yet Jonas has put his own Big Easy spin on the ball.
In painting after painting, we meet odd glassy-eyed humans locked in tropical, twilight nether-worlds where they ride monstrous iguanas like race horses, cavort with tigers, minotaurs and flamingos or simply go dancing and dining with crowds of identical one-cocktail-over-the-line clones of themselves.
Nobody delivers the darker, existential side of laissez le bon temps roule more acutely than Jonas.
2003 Albuquerque International
Balloon Fiesta Poster:
"Twenty-fifth in the series by Bill Jonas. For this milestone anniversary of the series, Jonas echoed the first poster ever done for the Fiesta, the classic 1979, depicting a single partial balloon and the edge of an adjacent one. Expanding on that image, the pilot is joined by three awed passengers. The beautiful blended sky and cloud forms hint at the dawn patrol that precedes each day's Fiesta events. The landscape below is shrouded in twilight. Jonas is widely admired for his meticulously crafted dreamscapes focusing on people engaged in higher pursuits. In the case of this poster, that description can be taken literally. His oil paint blending techniques are so time consuming that he produces as few as four paintings a year. We count ourselves lucky that one of those was the 25th installment of the Balloon Fiesta poster." ProCreations Publishing Company.
Quando l'arte é un ponte fra le culture
By Marta Casat >il Corriere di Firenze (The
"[In the painting, Lebensborn] " The American artist, Bill Jonas, presents a grand composition of 32 images, all of the same face. The man's features are represented subtly in a mesmerizing series of minimal movements, as though it were part of a cinematographer's film strip."
Out of over 900 artists exhibiting at the 2003 Florence Biennale, only four were selected for review in the Italian press. Jonas being the only painter."
Excerpt from "Some New Art Equations"
By D. Eric Bookhardt > Gambit Weekly
"It sounds like a sporting event, perhaps a tennis or golf tournament, but the CACs Louisiana Open could become an annual classic in its own right. It is, of course, an art show, and as art shows go this one is indeed wide open, unsullied by theme or theory. Yet it is based on a fairly obvious idea: invite all the serious artists in the state to participate and engage a respected art-world figure to make the final selection. It is the sort of show for which the CAC was known when it first opened, almost two decades ago long before its reincarnation as a kind of high-tone pleasuredrome of the beaux arts. (Apparently even obvious ideas can get lost in the shuffle.) Thus, this show seems an appropriate way to reinvest the place with some of its long lost populist appeal."
"Some of the paintings and prints employ whimsy of an almost cathartic sort. For instance, Bill Jonas' oil painting The Iguana Riders depicts several iguanas as big as horses, each with a human rider astride its back. The iguanas are rather philosophic of mein, while their riders all wear intensely hypnotic leers, like vampiric tango dancers. What gives? The artists statement says From out of the forest and into the glade the Iguana Riders emerge. They follow the beck of a tropical sky on a path this is dream beguiled. Oh. Well, of course
Excerpt from "Emotional Exhibit Arises from War"
By Roger Green > The Times-Picayune, May 5, 1991
"Seldom has a local exhibit showcased the fervent passion evident in Artists on War: Open Forum, the Contemporary Arts Centers sweeping new group exhibit treating recent events in the Persian Gulf and warfare in general. Organized by Covington artist Douglas M. Brewster, the non-juried show is crowded with emotionally charged paintings, sculptures, drawings, collages, photographs, installations and other inventive creations by 230-odd Louisiana artists."
"Predictable, riotous colors and violent distortions characterize many of the artists works, the majority of which are figurative and vehemently anti-war in sentiment. The visually turbulent installation should make a powerful impression on visitors."
Artists on War includes many works in which emotion and execution are happily married. Several of these works share formal properties, and/or address common themes."
"One example, Bill Jonas painting Power Play, equates making war with adolescent insecurity and concept of self-importance based on the size of the sex organs. This cartoon-like painting portrays four clown-like boys two with their pants undone, two brandishing yellow rulers."
"As a forum for the voice of the people, the exhibit deserves applause, particularly at a time when artistic freedom of speech is such a hotly debated concern. Kudos to Brewster and the CAC for organizing the timely show, an appropriate presentation at New Orleans alternative arts facility.