Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"MOJO Hands" opening February 3rd at Art Walk Fort Myers

Photograph by George Mitchell

The painting by Lennie Jones

Arts for ACT Gallery is pleased to present "MOJO HANDS' Opening Friday, February 3rd, from 6 to 10pm.  This visionary celebration of America's musical heritage featuring paintings by primitive folk artist, Lennie Jones and the photography of pioneering Blues Historian, George Mitchell.  Jones has painted his rendition of several of Mitchell's blues photographs.

Lennie Jones is  an outsider artist, a primitive self-taught painter of the holistic Blues experience as he envisions and experienced it.  As a young boy, his South Louisiana father instilled in me a deep love of Blues music, drawing pictures, and endless swampy wilderness. His mother was also a talented artistic influence. These positive connections luckily cradled him through a very troubled youth, and have remained yet the most powerful motivations in his adulthood. After his father left, the bulk of his youthful years were heavily influenced by a wonderful vibrant one-eyed Southern African-American woman aptly named “Tex.” She was a substitute for his mother, who was constantly away pursuing other ventures. Tex has a boisterous an’ soulful love of Blues, God, booze and fishin’... all of which became very important to him as well.

As a traveling blues musician, gigging in New York City in March, 1968, he met and heard the incredible Albert King. His unique combination of incomparable power, heartfelt pain, passionate subtlety and compelling musicianship moved Lennie's  soul like no music ever had before or since...Opening for the original Canned Heat,shakin’ hands with Muddy Waters, Bill Monroe, Bill Graham, seein’ the immortal Jimmy Reed and giggin’ for Zappa further solidified his love of playing, hearing and living the Blues.

Unfortunately, years of continued professional playing resulted in a habitual wrestling match with his alcohol demons, and repeated brushes with the law. As often lamented by blues men, “when you let the Devil ride, he wanna drive.” This struggle culminated with his final arrest following a late night gig in a rural Southern enclave in March, 1980. Police roughed me up, which I fully deserved. Thrown into a tiny dark jail, I was chained to an unfortunate black convict who had murdered his wife that very night with a knife.  Early the next morning, the Lennie and the other convict were paraded barefoot through several blocks of a small town and presented to a hard-time judge. This was his very own Crossroads, and he never drank alcohol again. Possibly the best night and finest morning of his entire life.

Only a few years later, miraculously overlooking my “shady” past and welcoming my unique wilderness skills, I was hired by the Federal government as a Ranger in the remote Florida Everglades. There I wandered for over twenty years, working alone and chasing poachers, renegade ‘gators, smugglers and other wonderful characters.  For many years, I have thrived in the mysterious and primitive wilderness, happy, healthy and blessed with a timeless source of spiritual inspiration to my art and soul...An’ the music never left him!

After retiring from the federal government, Lennie picked up a paint brush and started painting his passion.  Painting his beloved Blues musicians and instruments.  He works primarily with acrylic paint on linen canvas, as well as occasional works on driftwood that he has discovered deep in the Everglades.  Lennie’s subjects generally revolve around Southern blues & roots music themes, and his creations are colorful, soulful & singularly unique.  Lennie’s completed works have included Festival & Event Posters, CD Covers, Magazine & Media, Prints & Portraits and he has received a wide variety of appreciative testimonials & accolades.

George Mitchell has been making serious photographs since his senior year in high school, when he began photographing traditional blues artists he located or visited with a Kodak Instamatic camera. He began making more professional photographs in 1967, when the University of Minnesota School of Mass Communication and Journalism lent him a camera, and his wife and he went to Mississippi for the summer to record, photograph, and interview traditional blues musicians.  This trip resulted in a master of arts paper and also his first book, Blow My Blues Away, published by Louisiana State University Press.  For several years in the late 1960's and early 1970's, he was a reporter in Columbus, Georgia.  Under the tutelage of the photographers at the Columbus Ledger, he took the photographs which appeared with his stories.  At the Columbus Times, he was a reporter, a photographer, and later executive editor.  During that period, he produced his second book of photographs and text, I'm Somebody Important.  He then decided to become a photography teacher, and returned to the University of Minnesota where he studied photography teaching in both the journalism and art departments.  He taught photography in Atlanta at four high schools for a total of 25 years.  He also authored five more books of photographs and interviews.

There have been several solo exhibitions of his photographs over the years, including three in Atlanta; one in Columbus, Georgia (a number of his photographs are in the permanent collection of the Columbus Museum of Art); Sacramento, California; Utrecht, Holland; and Fort Myers.

Mitchell, who spent his first two years in Fort Myers, before moving to Atlanta, has returned to Fort Myers, where he continues to photograph for exhibition and publication.

 (All are books of photographs, most with text as well, both by Mitchell)
 BLOW MY BLUES AWAY (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971; New York: DaCapo Press, 1984)
 I'M SOMEBODY IMPORTANT (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973)
 YESSIR, I'VE BEEN HERE A LONG TIME (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975)
 IN CELEBRATION OF A LEGACY (Columbus: Columbus Museum of Art, 1981; re-published 1999, distributed by University of Georgia Press)
 SOUTHERN PORTRAITS (Bear Creek, AL: Bear Creek Books, 1981)

This collaboration of Jones and Mitchell is not to be missed.  Jones will have all new works and many of Mitchell's photographs have never been seen in this area.