Pictured, from left:
Materials: Acrylic on Masonite, collage, 24" x 18"; (left and right); 24" x 30" (center)
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, second floor, Ernest R. and Bonnie L. Estep Labor and Delivery Waiting Room
This grouping of three works by the late Cleveland State art professor Marvin Jones was selected for the Ernest R and Bonnie L. Estepp Lobby on the second floor of the new patient tower for its playful, humorous character. Each painting was done on Masonite (rather than on canvas) in a series Jones entitled “Sherbrook,” referring to Sherbrook Road in South Euclid, where he lived for many years.
In the central panel, Sherbrook #15, the artist arrays six simplified figures across the surface, almost like pattern pieces. Each is made up of cutout, fine-grade sandpaper, glued to the surface, along with some painted features: At left, a human (but with horns? or is that hair?) stands slightly unbalanced with tiny arms upraised, as though signaling or perhaps beholding something awesome (in ancient art, upraised arms indicated a theophany or the appearance to humans of a god).Above, between the “horns” Jones has located a square-ish form which he animates with two wide-spaced, tiny dots for eyes. Below at left, another indeterminate figure has only eyes and seems to rise from the ground as a kind of trapezoid.
At the right in this same panel, the artist provides a little more information for the three figures: Clearly one is a snake or an eel, upright and in profile (one eye shown), another seems to be fish in profile (lower right), and the largest form — blocky and eluding easy identification — again has either horns or upraised appendages/arms, filling most of the remaining space. What kind of gathering of human and vaguely zoological creatures is represented here and what are they doing, what do they mean? They are simultaneously bizarre and somewhat droll, with their wide-spaced, staring eyes, a tinge of surprise (the upraised appendages/arms), and odd details (the standing snake, the gaping mouth of the fish).It is likely that Jones was aiming for a sense of the uncanny, with no specific message other than conjuring a series of responses in the beholder as he filled the flat Masonite panel with abstracted figures and evocative forms that he liked. Relatives of these puzzling but endearing creatures populate his paintings and prints over the years, emblems of his embrace of the comic as a way of expressing his more tragic view of humanity.
At left, a running figure (Sherbrook #26) is made up of cut textured paper collaged to the panel’s surface. The artist combines frontal views of the pink figure and side views of its arms and legs against a background of mottled blue. Again, widely spaced, painted bulls-eyes and a simple triangle for a nose articulate a face; the figure, which pretty much fills the composition, is humorous because of the contrast of the huge, flat body/head and the spindly, insect-like arms. We have to wonder where s/he is off to …
The most static figure, facing us squarely, appears in the right panel (Sherbrook #3). It shares the same mottled background with #26 at left (so they make good “bookends” here) and, again, the artist achieves a kind of whimsical mood — does the figure welcome us? warn us off? — by simplifying form, reducing to the bare essentials. Each one of us viewing this work is invited to interpret those tiny bulls-eyes and the skinny, tilted oval that might be a mouth right as we experience it and in whatever mood we might bring to the moment.
Each of these three panels can stand on its own, and each raises amusing questions of interpretation as well as revealing Marvin Jones’ distinctive and eloquent choice of materials, as well as his widely recognized wit and sense of humor. When curator Meg Harris Stanton decided to present them as you see them here, the two lateral panels definitely seemed to create a matched set and frame, inviting us into the central composition. Here we may generate our own story about what might be going on, or just enjoy familiarity with the artist’s preference for simplified, vaguely humorous form and the suggestion of expression with reduced facial features and minimal details (appendages, gestures, poses). Perhaps the main idea was to enjoy the ambiguity and puzzle that the artist creates in these three compositions and our curator has underlined in grouping them together.
Jones taught printmaking and painting, primarily, at Cleveland State University from 1974, and he headed the printmaking program there from 1985 until his death. He was much loved and respected by students and colleagues as well as by members of the broader art community. In addition to prints and paintings, he created works of jewelry and ceramic sculpture and also collected works of art outside of the Western tradition, including from Mexico, Australia, Africa, and the Inuit. He had deep convictions about the relevance of art of “primitive” cultures to that being created right now, and his work often revealed features that emphasized those convictions. He previously taught at a number of U.S., Canadian, and German educational institutions, as well as having served as artist-in-residence — an important honor and recognition by colleagues for any artist — at significant institutions (Oxbow Studio and Conference Center, Millay Colony for the Arts) across the United States. He exhibited his work vigorously — in solo and group shows, and many international exhibitions dedicated to contemporary prints — and received awards in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Virginia, Washington, and in Alberta, Canada.