What in the world isn’t going on in the busy boroughs of artist Keith Jones?
Geometric mini-dudes cop lifts on the shoulders and forearms of freewheeling fake-heads. The ocular lasers of airborne adolescents zap pistol-packing teddy-men before they can perpetrate mischief. Dead birdies line the phone wires, hairy mountain men haul ass on bicycles, smoke-faced prophets shake esoteric sceptres at incomprehensible machines. Robots, blood, ice cream and hard liquor abound.
There’s plenty going on in the signature tableaus of Vancouver artist Keith Jones, currently residing in Montreal. These surreal soups of activity, little Jonestowns if you will—which make up a good half of his new, somewhat scrapbookish collection Bacter-Area from Drawn & Quarterly—are full of all manner of goddamn stuff, good and bad, silly and sacred. But what does it all add up to?
“It’s a world full of things that I make up,” explains Jones (as best he can). “I want it to be so busy that it doesn’t have a focal point anymore. It’s like a world and everything has a little story going on, and the story of it all is just that—there are tons of little stories going on at the same time.
“I’ll get into a long journey to draw one of those. I just start in a spot and spread out. I always find moments on the page which are where the confidence is, and go in there, and then over here will just be blank. But then I have something to react to, and fill in more. The last thing I’ll be thinking about is what’s going on. I don’t want to worry about that.”
It’s an approach that puts Jones in good company. He’s part of a new school of developed doodlers straddling the realms of comics, illustration and fine art, for whom the focus is precisely on a lack of specific focus—to hell with composition and, where applicable, narrative structure.
One comparable talent is erstwhile Montrealer (and Mirror contributor) Marc Bell, a friend of Jones’s and, with Julie Doucet and now Jones, another of Drawn & Quarterly’s admissions to their Petits Livres series. Seripop, Mike Diana and Luke Ramsey (with whom Jones shared a pair of art shows in Taiwan) also spring to mind.
Balancing the visual cacophony and chaos of Jones’s images, even the more contained ones, is a thoroughness and precision in his rendering of each element. His linework is razor sharp, his figures fully fleshed out. And when he wanders close to traditional comic-strip territory, which demands a degree of scripted dialogue, Jones uses language in a similarly paradoxical fashion, grinding up corporate patois into an abstract poetry of platitudes—to wit, “It’s all thanks to that pending dispute dealing with erratic movements relative to digital watermarking over in rat training...”
“I love that kind of writing,” says Jones. “I find it really humorous and informative at the same time. It lacks feeling in a way I find funny, something that I find relevant to the way I like to draw. I’ve jumped through lots of themes with my drawings over the years. At a point in time, it was all feeling dry and stale and dead. That’s the time period the core character, the suit man I always draw, came out of. I’m still implementing him into all my drawings as everything grows all around him. The writing came out of that period as well, that weird, dry, robotic writing.
“I still love it, but it’s got a lot more humorous elements to it now. I just like the idea of making up long words that describe things that don’t exist, and sound like they’re supposed to exist to a degree that you don’t even understand.”
Book launch with DJ Dumpster at Zoobizarre
on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m., free