By Scott Squires

It’s clear that Jules Buck Jones was an ungulate in a very recent lifetime. As his middle name would suggest, the Austin-based artist communes with nature on a level deeper than most. His mother, a painter named Sheep Jones, must have given him that name for a very good reason.

“My girlfriend and I were out at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and we’re hiking through this canyon and we hear this large crack, like something is striking antlers against a rock. We look up and we see these two bighorn sheep, baying, smacking their heads together and locking horns, wrestling. We just sat there and watched that…I love going out to Big Bend, but that really sold Guadalupe Mountains for me.”

Jones’ recently opened exhibition entitled ¿Do Geese See God? at Houston’s McMurtrey Gallery showcases some of the artist’s new work. Jones uses pen and ink, watercolors and collage to build worlds that are sometimes dark and foreboding, sometimes rich and vivid, but always alive and breathing, powerful and dynamic. He’s reminding you that nature is bigger than you, and that it’s never something to be messed with.

“I’m anthropomorphizing nature,” Jones said. “The longer you stare at the work, the more it starts to come out at you – eyes, teeth, genitalia and stuff.” Jones builds many of his pieces by mirroring the skeletal structure of the forest. “It has this skeleton. There’s all this flesh to it too, but if you start to really look at it you can start to see this structure behind it…sort of like walking through the forest in Bastrop after those fires.”

Jones’ subjects include deconstructed woodland imagery, different animals, water, light, and night, according to the show’s abstract. Jones aims to unveil something alive and breathing hidden behind the underbrush. According to Jones, these landscapes “breathe, burp, piss, shit, fuck, grow, and die. They stare at you, an endangered concept, a sentient environment.”

Jules Buck Jones, Emu Love Volume, 2014. Ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper. 50" x 38"
Jules Buck Jones, Emu Love Volume, 2014. Ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper. 50″ x 38″

There is a sense of symmetry in Jones’ images, and the title of the exhibition and some of the included works are palindromes that play on that symmetry. “I started going through all these books on palindromes. They’re really interesting because you’re bound by this certain formula, these rules…Sometimes you get these really crazy phrases that come out of that.” According to Jones, ¿Do Geese See God? was the perfect title for the exhibition.

“I have these four pieces in the show that accomplished exactly what I wanted them to do,” Jones said. No Lemon No Melon is one of them. Entangled branches and tree limbs in vivid yellows, oranges and browns reach out at the viewer, drawing them into the scene. “It’s very Venusian,” he said.

In addition to painting and pen and ink drawings, the exhibition also incorporates sculpture. There is one large sculpture piece, comprised of a wood frame, foam and papier-mâché. “I’m hoping to do more with sculpture…I could literally go forever with it until I hit a physical wall or a ceiling or something,” Jones said. “It’s not so confined by the frame, by the square…It’s something to bring the show off the walls.”

Jones hopes that instigating a dialogue about the collective consciousness of nature will demand more accountability for our actions. He believes our collective conversation with the world is too one sided. His work suggests a power shift between the viewer and subject, that is, between humans and nature. He depicts nature as a force unwilling to be developed, manicured, or profited on. Jones’ “imagery is defiant, armed with tooth and nail, eyes and thoughts.”

According to Jules Buck Jones, “We are not the only ones who live here, we are not the only things with needs, and we are not the only ones with power.”

¿Do Geese See God? is open through Jan. 10 at the McMurtrey Gallery Houston, 3508 Lake Street. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Friday 10:30-5:00 and Saturday, 11:00-5:00.

Jules Buck Jones, Dumb Mud, 2014. Ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper. 50" x 38"
Jules Buck Jones, Dumb Mud, 2014. Ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper. 50″ x 38″