Lois Malou Jones: An Afro-Cubist-Modernist American Treasure

“The Ascent of Ethiopia,” 1932, Lois Malou Jones, Milwaukee Museum of Art.

Cubists were old white French dudes who painted blocky shapes in gray and brown, and there’d be a guitar in there, somewhere. They all seemed to have an African period, where they became enamored of African masks and imitated by flattening the faces in their paintings; then they moved on to something else. The impressionists used pastels, rarely vibrant colors. Didn’t the Harlem Renaissance meant jazz flowing from a briefly opened door in an underground speakeasy during Prohibition–maybe there was a gay poet in there, somewhere?

Lois Malou Jones has enlightened me.

I probably know a little more about modern art than the average person, as my mother taught classes on the subject, and our house was filled with Pollock prints (mine has O’Keeffe and Hopper). But I recently took a refresher class on modernism (OLLI is America’s best-kept secret and Jannie Dresser is the bomb-digitty of teachers). When we covered the Harlem Renaissance, I realized I knew very little about Black American modern artists and appallingly nothing about our American jewel, painter Jones.

Cultured, Educated, Ignored

Jones was born and raised in Boston; her parents were educated, and they, in turn, encouraged both her education and artistic development. She sold her bold and beautiful designs to department stores; she had a solo exhibit in Martha’s Vineyard at the age of 17. She apprenticed with designer Grace Ripley, and eventually created costume designs for the Denishawn dance troupe (Martha Graham was one of the students). After completing her degree at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, however… you can guess the rest. One decorator told her that a “colored girl” couldn’t possibly produce such designs.

“Symbols d’Afrique,” 1980, Lois Malou Jones.
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Old Friends Made New

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I want to spend a few words talking about the power of art.

What does Katy Perry have to do with the fall of Sauron? Creativity, talent, music, words, the human expression of emotion can stave off the darkness and give us the strength to go forward in facing challenges. Reconnecting with art we know makes it even more powerful.

Katie Perry gestured. It was corny, it was Americana, it was breathtakingly beautiful. Photo from Getty Images.

Who’s Lung-Busting Kitsch Now?

Maybe you could have looked in a crystal ball six years ago and predicted it. Let’s have the singer of “Sorry, Not Sorry” deliver a moving tribute to health care workers during our next pandemic. Let’s have her use our dear-departed Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” as a way to bind the country together–online, of course–beamed into the White House. Demi Lovato never looked more elegant and the world never looked more “alright with me.”

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The Mundane Spectacle of Pat, Rocky, Moonface, and the Great Mephisto

Wrestling poster from 1972, photo from Pinterest.

A chunk of my childhood was in black and white. Or, to be more accurate, my recollection of the outside world as-it-was when I was young, my memory of historical events, is in black and white because television was in black and white, and that was the conduit to the outside world. The Vietnam War, the Brady Bunch, Richard Nixon, the funeral of Martin Luther King, and even cartoons. Saturday nights when I was a pre-teen belonged to black-and-white UHF stations, to Big Time Wrestling.

One of the stars from those days was Pat Patterson, whose obituary in the New York Times this week caught my eye. He was Canadian; he was gay; he was a legend. But all of the wrestlers loomed larger than life. It was the nature of their business to loom.

Big Time Wrestling

Wrestling, like so many forms of circuses in our world of bread and circuses, has evolved multiple times over the centuries. My grandparents probably saw it as a sideshow in a circus or attached to vaudeville acts before the invention of TV and mass media. It did not spring forth in whole cloth as it is today, in pay-per-view, with lasers flashing, tens of thousands of fans, and heavy metal music blaring. The version I saw was on that tiny (9-inch) TV screen on grainy channel 40 in a musty half-filled Sacramento auditorium. But it was essentially the same.

Big Time Wrestling @ 1970, photo at the House of Deception.com
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I Hereby Bequeath to You My Aloofness and My Fascination with Dinosaurs

Shared Shakespeare. Photo by kajmeister.

“Being of sound mind,” my grandfather said, licking the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices from his fingertips, “I spent it all.”

We were seated in his huge steel gray Cadillac, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken because he seemed to get a kick out of contrasting his wealth with the idea of eating fast food in the car, as a weird way to impress out of town family. He had built up a thriving business and owned a huge house overlooking a creek that flowed into the Mississippi in a swanky suburb of Minneapolis. Grandpa liked to show off its technical gadgets to his grandchildren, although woe betide any who touched the remote control that opened the curtains or turned on the lights. Whenever my mother referred to “the rich,” I knew she meant her father.

When he died, though, I don’t know where the money went. He had nine children and there were medical needs for my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s. The only thing my mother seemed to inherit from him was a restless industriousness and a fanatic desire to prove herself. She passed that on to her children.

This week’s topic is inheritance and, while first thoughts turn to wealth, for most of us inheritance is about traits, values, and interests. If we’re lucky, maybe a prized object or two as well. We all inherit; it’s rarely money.

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The Blog Will Not Be Televised

Jo March writing
Jo March, depicted in Little Women, a film about…writing

Despite Gil-Scott Heron’s poem to the contrary, the revolution is being televised. News today is conveyed more through film than through words, though we usually need to see the headline in order to find the video during which people are reading from scripts. When there’s a big march, we see it depicted in video, from paid news programmers and live participants, waving their cameras around, showing pictures of clever protest signs with written slogans…

Nope. Nope. Much as I try to visualize it, the words just don’t go away. No matter how ubiquitous video has become, it will not entirely replace text. The art forms will continue to jostle each other for a share of your head space.

Will We All Turn Into Vloggers?

The question I’m pondering today was posed in the blogging community by Salted Caramel, who prompted bloggers about where they saw their blog going in 2020. Among other thought-provoking questions, what caught my eye was about the rise of vlogs:

In your opinion how relevant or popular are text based blogs (as opposed to vlogs) going to be in 2020 ?YouTube videos made by veteran bloggers… claimed that all bloggers would need to get on the video bandwagon in 2020 if they were to survive. Their reason was that people no longer have time for text based content...

Question on Blogging Insights from the blog Salted Caramel
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