A leading exponent of outsider art, inspired by the industrial landscape of his native Wales, Jack Jones had a romantic, tragic and productive life, and leaves a legacy of work that is becoming increasingly collectable.
Jack Jones, painter, teacher and writer, was born in Swansea during the Great Depression. He was born poor and illegitimate in the front room of a terraced house in Aberdyberth Street, Hafod, Swansea, South Wales. He was raised by his grandmother. Whilst conditions were harsh and the area was one of high unemployment and few comforts, young Jack was not despondent. He said ‘Life for me was a delight and a source of joy and wonder, a one-off opera which was free for the enjoying…..in spite of the poverty and the ill-health there was a bubbling effervescence in the Hafod people that transformed them from victims to victors.”
He won a place at Dynevor School and then studied at University in Paris, where in his late twenties he became interested in art. He published a Life of Van Gogh, The Man who loved the Sun.
He returned to the UK to teach in 1951 and went on to teach French and English, eventually becoming Head of English at Barnes Grammar School. London.
Jack Jones began his painting career in 1953, and continued virtually untaught for most of the rest of his life. His inspiration came from his childhood in the heart of industrial Swansea – its characters, landscape and warm community.
Although he was called “The Welsh Lowry” he denied Lowry’s influence on his painting and referred to himself as the “Leonardo of the slag heap”. He said that he was “not aware of the existence of Lowry and had developed the content and style before I saw any of his pictures. I fell that his paintings are sadder that my own”.
From 1956 to 1972 Jack jones was also a scriptwriter for BBC radio and prepared some two hundred broadcasts. Eventually he gave up his teaching post as Head of English to paint full time.
Fellow Welshman and President of the School of Art Institute, Chicago, Professor Anthony jones, spoke of Jones’ ability to take a scene and boil it down to its “fundamental elements”.
Jones had many years of grave illness, including six operations for cancer and two coronaries, and by the age of 63 he was an alcoholic in a mental hospital. He did not however give up and within a year of this sorry state he had become a Roman Catholic, gave up drink and began working with alcoholics and drug addicts in Chelsea.
He was able to return to painting for the last ten years of his life and, following travels to Spain, much of his this later work was more colourful.
He had several solo shows both in London and Swansea, including the Stephen Bartley Gallery from 1988, the Tallesin Arts Gallery, Swansea, 1991 and a major exhibition at the Glynn Vivian Gallery in 1993, shortly before his death.
He lived finally in Putney, south London.
In his funeral oration for Jack Jones, Donald Anderson MP, now Lord Anderson of Swansea, said “The essence of his message is community, the figures in his urban landscape of terraced houses, the pub, the brooding hill and the chapel are not atomised individuals, alienated, isolated, but warm, cosy, holding hands – a real community”
The work of Jack Jones is now collected by many, including Sir Anthony Hopkins and Hywell Bennett, and can be found in many public galleries.