One of the most varied artists on the East London street art scene is Jonesy, a man equally at home casting bronze or producing paste ups. He is a multi-faceted talent and his work can be found all over the east end.
We’ve covered his work here before on Inspiring City. A favourite of London tour guides because the art is often beautifully intricate but hidden from view. We described him as ‘the street artist who is our little secret‘, because quite simply he is like no other and someone who is soon to be exhibiting in Soho as part of the upcoming the Human Nature show.
Occupying the top floor of a former biscuit factory in East London, it’s just a short walk from the Limehouse Cut and Bow Locks where a lot of his work can be found. It’s also not too far away from the multi-cultural hub that is Brick Lane and where some of his most famous works can be seen.
Inside it is a hive of creativity, virtually no part of this studio is free from some form of drawing or sculpture. In the centre is a huge bronze birdbath, an early example of his work from the nineties. It is covered with intricate details, cast from an old satellite dish he added the details in wax before creating the cast.
This is how he creates a lot of his bronzes, a combination of found materials which act as the base and then intricate wax designs added on top. A metal worker by trade he is well versed in the creation of casts to which the molten bronze is then poured into, the sheer volume of finished products in the workshop are testament to that.
Originally from the Welsh valleys, Jonesy came to London in the eighties, and with the exception of a few stints working elsewhere, including a time in Ibiza working with acclaimed sculptor Barry Flanagan, this is where he has been since. Street art started relatively late, first experimenting around the valleys of his home town in Wales and then really starting to place his mark onto the London scene around 2010.
His work has a strong flavour of environmentalism about it. More than once when we meet, he keeps coming back to these themes. Global warming is a concern and a lot of his work is aimed at raising awareness of this. One key event in particular, the discovery in 2013 that the c02 levels in the atmosphere had reached up to 400 parts per million is something he keeps coming back to. “That was the point at which it’ll take our temperature above two degrees.” It’s the tipping point he tells me.
The whole 400 parts per million thing is important and he references it on a lot of his work because that’s the point at which some scientists think could unleash a domino effect of environmentally related events. The thawing of permafrost releasing methane into the atmosphere for example and the continued reduction of the ice caps. Both perhaps all too painfully obvious by-products of global temperatures rising past that point of two degrees.
“Sometimes it feels like we’ve already failed because we have reached 400 parts per million they’ve been warning about it for the past twenty odd years” he tells me. “It doesn’t stop you doing it though I want people in the future to look back and say some people tried to do something about it at least”.
A lot of his work is inspired by these themes. In addition to his bronzes he creates original hand drawn posters which he pastes up around the streets of London and the towns he visits around the country. He’s also equally at home in wood, in fact alongside the back of the studio a series of hand carved and fully strung guitars are hanging on the back wall. All made with wood sourced from environmentally friendly sources, they are just hanging there, beautifully carved.
I ask about one of the pieces that I always remember seeing and which first brought his work to my attention. It was a bronze casting of a dragon eating its own tail and snaking it’s way round a disc which I now discover he originally modelled in wax onto a plastic lid prior to casting it. It was rammed solidly into a wall next to Shoreditch station and I remember marvelling at the time it must have taken to do such a thing. “It’s a symbol of death and rebirth” he tells me. Called an Ouroboro it can trace it’s origins back to India and Ancient Egypt and is one of the oldest mystical symbols in the World.
It’s clear that nothing is left to chance with Jonesy and the work he produces. Other inspirations are clear, the use of Celtic imagery and works inspired from native american cultures. Art borne out of peoples who lived with nature and who had the environment at the heart of their way of living. Nature and the congruity that people have with it, playing such an important part of the art he creates.
Now he is preparing for a show with the Human Nature collective, a group of environmentally aware artists who have been exhibiting together for a while now. There’s a pot of molten wax on the boil at the far end of the studio where he’s created a workshop. Wax which will soon be moulded into intricate designs many of which will then turn into the basis of a mould for bronze casting.
With Jonesy though I get the impression that the art he creates is more just about the expression. We called him the ‘artist who is our little secret‘ because there’s an aura about the man and the work he creates. He rarely promotes his work and he rarely exhibits. Instead he chooses to get on with what he believes in and put his art out there for people to make their own minds up about what it is that he’s trying to say.
Jonesy Studio Gallery