Ben Jones' Mesmerizing Animations and Cinema Paintings | KCET
Ben Jones' Mesmerizing Animations and Cinema Paintings
Ben Jones leads the way through a Hollywood building with winding staircases and shelves filled high with books. It looks more like an old apartment building or a large house that landed on a busy stretch of Sunset Boulevard. Now, though, the building is home for ADHD (Animation Domination Hi-Def), an animation studio set up to make cutting-edge cartoons for Fox. Jones is the creative director at the studio and creator of the series "Stone Quackers," which runs on Fox's cable channel FXX. Inside this space, many aspects of his art career -- playfulness and experimentation, pop culture and fine art -- collide all with a DIY spirit that remains in tact, even when he's making a show for a major network.
He heads into a small room and shows some of his projects, some comics that lead to his TV work, an issue of Paper Magazine where he body-painted Miley Cyrus. On a computer, he shows part of the process for his massive "cinema paintings," from a solo show at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills. Jones demonstrates how he layers the images on the computer to figure out what he will paint and what he will animate to project on top of the painting using Flash, the same program that the animators at ADHD use to make "Stone Quackers." Jones works with one foot in the fine art world, another in the pop culture realm, yet it manifests with the help of one computer program.
If there's one common thread that has run through Jones' career, it's the computer. During his childhood in Massachusetts, his father, who worked for a computer company, brought home a Macintosh with a program called HyperCard, where users stored information on virtual cards and flipped through them. Jones used HyperCard to make animation. A succession of programs followed until he ultimately adopted Flash for his purposes. While tech has long been important to Jones' process -- he admits that he went to Massachusetts College of Art in the latter half of the '90s because they had an Avid machine for editing videos -- his art isn't about the gear.
There are many different facets to Jones' work. "At a certain point, the work just dictates how it will be externalized," he says. "If I'm working on characters and story, it just naturally gravitates towards things like short form or long form narrative and when the ideas are purely these beautiful, visual shapes or colors or forms, those will obviously want to and should be made into sculptures and paintings."
Ben Jones Cinema Painting I Acrylic on canvas with digital projection 144" (H) x 256" (W)
In the fine art world, his resume is impressive; Jones, who moved to Los Angles five years ago, has shown his work at MOCA and at a number of high-profile galleries. His shows can be an immense display of video art and sculpture. At Ace Gallery, Jones' pieces take up three rooms. A ping-pong table with dog-shaped legs sits in the center of the largest room, where it is surrounded by the cinema paintings. Smaller video paintings are arranged in the side rooms, each presenting a dense, psychedelic, moving image so long as the projectors are running. There are certain elements that frequently appear in his work, like stripes and shapes that resemble Scottish terriers. Ladders are frequently used in Jones' installations. At the Ace show, they melt and twist like vines of licorice that have been left in the car for too long.
Early on, Jones was best known as part of the collective Paper Rad, whose brightly colored, visually intense multimedia projects led to the artist's work in television. Jones' first series, the brilliant Cartoon Network show "Problem Solverz," was derived from his Paper Rad material. The show was bizarre by TV standards, only slightly more tame than the sensory overload in Paper Rad's videos. It also didn't last long, one season aired on the cable network and a shorter second season was released via Netflix nearly two years later. "'Problem Solverz' stemmed from a pure, crazy visual experimentation world and wasn't taking into consideration making beautiful cartoons,"says Jones. His current television series, "Stone Quackers," takes the opposite approach. The episodes are short and filled with adult humor, but the influences are Studio Ghibli and Pixar films. They watched "Ponyo," a Studio Ghibli film directed by famed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaiki, while making the series.
With the mention of "Ponyo," Jones elaborates on what is key to his art. Whether creating pieces for galleries or television, the '90s DIY culture that influenced Jones as a college student still affects how he approaches creative projects.
"If a Disney or Dreamworks saw 'Ponyo,' they would buy Studio Ghibli or do something traditional to co-opt that thing," he says. (Indeed, the film's 2009 U.S. release came through Disney.) "For us, it was a matter of celebrating it as a DIY thing, which is teaching ourselves how to do stuff in that style using Photoshop, whereas Studio Ghibli is hand painting stuff."
Jones is part of a generation that was inspired by a mix of handmade and computer generated culture. Zines and mix tapes were still popular ways to share underground culture, but computers had become more accessible and the Internet was gaining steam, particularly amongst college students, for making and distributing art. He references "TV Carnage," a DVD series centered around the worst television that dates back to the 1990s. Creator Derrick Beckles went on to work for Vice and, more recently, created the show "Hot Package" for cable network Adult Swim. He mentions comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, who became cult favorites with their Adult Swim shows "Tom Goes to the Mayor" and "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!," as kindred spirits and influences. He says he likes to work with artists who come out of the DIY realm, even on projects that are tied to television networks. "We have such a good history and understand and shared appreciation to what make[s] something good and we don't have the experience that a seasoned vet would have in the animation industry," he says, "but we know exactly what we would like."
That influence from the punk-inspired, DIY underground has already impacted pop culture and Jones surmises that it will continue to do so. "We as a community are going to take these tools that we learned from working with no money and build a better system with it. It's not going to be about scamming the system or exploiting everyone's time to work for free," he says. "I think slowly we'll bridge that gap between DIY."
Top image: Ben Jones, "SGI Video Painting II," 2015. Acrylic on canvas with digital projection. 54 inches (H) x 72 inches (W). | Photo: Courtesy Ace Gallery Beverly Hills.
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