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John Paul Jones Headlines Museum’s New Exhibit

Sometimes juxtapositions of museum exhibitions can be as intriguing as the individual exhibitions themselves. Such is currently the case at the Laguna Art Museum: a selection of John Paul Jones’ multifaceted works curated by Cal State Fullerton gallery director Mike McGee plays lead and an E. Roscoe Shrader exhibition organized by the museum’s collections curator Janet Blake co-stars.

Also on display are “Sean Duffy: Searcher,” a show curated by the museum’s curator Grace Kook-Anderson and “Masterstrokes,” contemporary plein air paintings curated by Irvine Museum director Jean Stearn. A touching memorial exhibit of paintings, drawings and writings by Megan Jones, daughter of John Paul, is a cameo.

Megan Jones, who took art classes at Laguna Beach High School as well as instruction at the former Laguna Art Institute, was already a chip off the old block. Her drawings mirror the perfectionism of her artist father, John Paul. Fate intervened, though, as she died at age 20 of cancer.

At first glance, the combined exhibition of Shrader and Jones seems odd, but from a closer examination emerges a commonality on one hand and opposites on the other.

Both artists are not as well known today as they should be, and both were acclaimed and successful in their time while also experiencing career slowdowns. In their own very different way, both artists represent an avant-garde aesthetic: Shrader the 1920s and ’30s and Jones the early 1960s and beyond.

Both were meticulous craftsmen and yet expressed themselves freely in varied ways, Jones primarily through printmaking and wood sculpture and Shrader through illustrations and, with a much looser brush, landscapes. His grisaille (tones of black, white and gray) paintings in particularly resemble photography without slavishly replicating it while his landscapes are stylistically diverse.

Jones was prolific. Former Laguna art collectors Dennis Hudson and Nancy Noble, now of Santa Fe, alone owned roughly 400 Jones works and donated 155 of them to the Laguna Art Museum since 1994.

Blake says Shrader made relatively few paintings, preferring teaching and leading the California Art Club to solitary toil in his studio. “It’s too bad he did not paint more since he got great reviews,” she said.

John Paul Jones was the subject of two retrospectives last year. McGee served as curator of one show at Cal State Fullerton and Andrea Harris co-curated another at Orange Coast gallery. They were to be accompanied by a book titled “John Paul Jones: The Pursuit of Beauty’s Perfect Proof,” but publication was delayed beyond the show’s closing. When the book finally came out, Laguna Art Museum’s director Bolton Colburn, who had also intended a Jones retrospective, turned to McGee to organize it instead.

“The San Francisco Museum of Modern art and Brooklyn Museum have quite a few of Jones’ work, but the Laguna collection made me feel like a kid in a candy store. I had plenty to chose from for the show and it gives you an idea just how large the museum’s holdings are,” said McGee.

Even though McGee selected a variety of works, Jones’ prints and the more massive of his wood sculptures stand out since they evidence perfectionism that many frankly call obsessive. Close examination of joined wood pieces like “Plaza Suite,” challenge anyone to find the tiniest flaw and he would draw a subject until it seemed right.

“John idolized (Alberto) Giacometti and always said that if Giacometti painted 100 heads, he would paint at least 50,” said Suzanne Nestor, Jones’ partner for the last seven years of his life.

Besides exploring all forms of print making, Jones painted, made bronze sculptures, and produced barely discernible drawings that demand as much attention as his some of his more ephemeral sculpture.

Hudson and Noble came by their trove of Jones’ work when the artist decided in 1990 to relocate to Oregon and buy a house. “I had known John Paul for a long time. I was Megan’s pre-school teacher,” said Hudson. Jones offered most of his work for sale and the couple snapped it up. While the Laguna museum has much of their donated Jones works, Fullerton College, Cal State Fullerton and Chapman University received some as well. “We gave to several local institutions to make sure that if they put up shows, they could all borrow from each other,” said Hudson.

Jones left a legacy of students. He taught at UCLA from 1953-63 and at UC Irvine from 1969-90. Today, along with craftsmanship, print making in all its labor intensity is making a comeback. “Everything he did was purposeful yet you almost forget the he was an artist himself, he cared so much for what we were doing,” said Pamela Toomey, one of Jones’ many former students.

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