Neal Jones lives on a boat in a boat yard. He worries that the other boat men who know about engines and cars and wear high vis workwear on their days off, think he’s gay. Neal has a shed he works in near his boat. To get to his shed you have to navigate some deep puddles and thick mud. Big boots are best. The weather is always an issue this time of year but he’s good at collecting firewood which he chops with ease. He is never without a lighter.
Neal is making art povera work for a show in New York. Superficially they look sad but on closer inspection you realise they have a deep sense of utility. Abandoned boating apparatus is used to form the backs of chairs and drinking tables, forlorn lights with lightshades from industrial plastic buckets. Although they’re not forlorn, they’re happy and positive and dare I say, even hopeful – despite the smears of engine grease everywhere.
He is also making bigger paintings. At this stage there seems to be no discernible motif – flat screens of colour are his daily concern, smeared on with an assortment of raggedy brushes. Neal is assembling paintings from swathes of bright colour, which are never that bright as there’s always layer of scuzz beneath. He talks about actually assembling the paintings together – hosing, plastic sheets, painted bits of scrap wood, transformed and placed into the picture plane – and into our world. Neal insists they deserve your attention – and they do.
There is nothing arbitrary about what Neal does. He is disciplined – although it’s not modern discipline, in the capitalistic sense that seems to have infected much of contemporary artistic production. It’s his life. Surrounded by broken engine-cogs and mannequin boat parts you might assume the materials are arbitrary. However, Neal doesn’t go online and google “old pieces of shit” from eBay, no. He sees the materials around him and transforms them, teaching us the value of loss and re-activation. Neal’s work doesn’t preach about the systematic death of the natural world – and the loss of our imagination to re-activate our surroundings – he quietly suggests that making Art has a dimension beyond its formality. Where the object is imbued with utility, function and symbolic purpose.
I believe in Neal’s work – and I believe we should be looking more closely at it.