Calvin Bell Jones was an afrocentric visual artist and a Black Arts Movement activist from Chicago. He is known primarily for his nine murals and paintings.
He was awarded a full scholarship to attend the Chicago Institute of Art and received his BFA in drawing/painting and illustration in 1957. Jones’ initial 17-year career was in advertising. He was Hallmark Cards’ first African American Art Director and worked for the first black-owned ad agency, Vince Cullers Advertising (founded in 1956). Additionally, Jones worked with his own company, Sales Graphics Advertising.
Jones left advertising in 1970 and became the co-director of the avant garde AFAM Gallery Studio and Cultural Center in Chicago with Alfred Tyler.
Beginning in 1976, he became a community mural leader in Chicago and collaborated with Mitchell Caton on six Chicago murals. Additionally, Jones’ mural portfolio includes a mural in Detroit and Atlanta.
In the 1950s, Jones married Irene Tabron. They had a son, Byron Jones in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, Jones developed keratoconus, a corneal condition that causes vision distortion. The condition left him legally blind for much of his life. He stated that it caused him “to see light like a kaleidoscope, eight times.” Faheem Majeed, South Side Community Arts Center Executive Director and curator, posited that it was debatable if he created what he saw or if he was purposefully creating abstracted imagery. Jones received cornea transplants in the 1980s which restored his eyesight.
Jones kidney condition worsened while in California visiting his partner Cynthia Ross. He declined dialysis. His ashes are split between California’s redwood forest and his surviving family.25 He is survived by his son Byron and his sister Alletta Jumper.
His papers are held at the Chicago Public Library
Fine art paintings
Jones’ paintings were exhibited internationally (Senegal and Nigeria). His work was included in the Art in Chicago, 1945-1995 exhibition.
The artwork of his early fine art career incorporated African American figures set against patterns reminiscent of African textiles. Jones’ later artwork became abstract in the 1980s and used dramatic and textural compositions with intense colors, often incorporating objects onto the paintings such as bark, ceramic kiln furniture, feathers, dyed fabric and paper-mache.
When he was a freelancer, he was commissioned by Seagram Company and the Hiram Walker Foundation to paint what became the Beefeater set of limited edition prints “The Art of Good Taste”. “The set comprises the seven original paintings which traveled across the U.S. throughout 1992, as part of a major program sponsored by Beefeater to celebrate African American culture through art. In its first year, “The Art of Good Taste” program generated 89.5 million impressions nationally through advertising, promotion, events, publicity and consumer offers. It was also acclaimed as “one of the most dramatic and well executed marketing promotional campaigns ever seen in the beverage industry.”The program earned five awards from Beverage Dynamics, along with the PRAME Award for best ethnic campaign from the National Association of Market Developers and the National Black Public Relations Society.
Jones and Caton’s influenced the murals of Chicago, with their identifiable aesthetic of patterns and realistic figures which can still be seen with the murals “A Time to Unite (with Justine DeVan), “Another Time’s Voice Remembers My Passions Humanity”, and “Memories of the Future”.
Jones and Mitchell Caton were part of the Chicago Mural Group. Their 1981 mural, Builders of the Cultural Present, used a segmented format in canted parallelograms for the mural composition.
Olivia Guide and Jeff Hueber credit Jones and Caton for their innovated nonuniform mural contours which create a dynamic sense of vibrancy and movement as the composition was not confined by the paint and the building’s surface. ones and Caton’s murals used strong colors and were technically finely executed because of their strong draftsmanship.
Jones stated in 1994 that he did not use preliminary drawings or the grid method for his murals. He felt that it was a waste of his time. Jones would use African patterns in his mural designs to symbolize the progressive relationship between the past and the present.
“We, as people, all have our idiosyncrasies, prejudices and stereotypes concerning art and culture. The only way this gap can be bridged is through exposure and education. My challenge and obligation is to document, sensitize and relate to the Black experience of the societies and cultures in which we live and to be a responsible communicator in the projection and relation of my heritage — the mirror of my spiritual center.” Calvin B. Jones.