Tom Jones Levitation, Jon Langford 10" x 16 1/2", 2012 Digital print, mixed media on panel Artist Proof

By: Maxwell Redder

Photographs taken by: Mark Patsfall

Rarely does an artist have the opportunity to express so vividly an equal passion for music and visual art.  Jon Langford’s solo exhibit which came down July 14, 2012, at Clay St. Press was able to achieve that dichotomy.  In fact, he has lived on both sides of the late 1970’s.  Transmissions: Art and Words is intrinsically commercial, undoubtedly biased towards the musical tastes of one man and superfluously particular in each mark; each point bringing forth fluctuating emotions.

If a viewer was unaware that Jon Langford was a founding member of the British punk-influenced rock-n-roll band, The Mekons, whom gained a huge following in the late 1970’s, or any of his other numerous musical adventures, the viewer would think that the artist obsessed over early punk, early country musicians, and skeletons.  The majority of Langford’s works at Clay St. Press were portraits of early punk and early country musicians, not merely portraits, but often, well known images of the musicians.  Good examples of that are pieces titled: Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Ramones, and Joe Strummer – White Man at the Hammersmith Palais.  The prints seemed very sellable, resembling images of old pop icons and prints which exemplify that era.  However, Langford has a uniquely connected and sensitive touch.  His prints, according to the director of Clay St. Press, Mark Patsfall, are mostly digital images of large paintings.

The most sensitive of the portraiture pieces is entitled, June and Johnny.  Johnny Cash holding his wife June, both have tired and sorrowful looks on their faces.  The text in the background reads, “love is a burning thing” and “when hearts like ours meet.”  An emblem in the bottom right has a heart symbol with a pillar of fire extending from its top, exemplifying their sensitive and hate-wilting moment.

Many of Langford’s pieces have symbols such as the heart and fire, stars, X’s, and dots which lead the eye through the background.  Often the background will become more interesting than the portrait, especially given that the portrait is a rendition of a famous photograph.

The paintings themselves appear to have been rubbed, scratched, and thrown around in order to gain a texture consistent throughout each piece.  Conceptually, many works appear to express a worn-out genre, exemplified by their content.  Though Langford is best known for his early punk band, his true passion appears to lie in dying art of early country music.

His most powerful works are those showing iconic photographs of country musicians displayed as skeletons wearing the same garb.  Often in the background are song lyrics and designs similar to that which you would find on a cowboy boot (we’ll call it bandana mixed with Mexican day of the dead designs).  The skeleton images are a testimony to how early country music is a dying art.  Which, from as far as I can unfortunately see, country music is dead minus a few stragglers incorporating it into a meshed musical form, usually in the case of indie-bands.

Not all of Langford’s works are music-oriented.  Transmissions: Art and Words displays several humorous prints.  Langford did a series for his band, Jon Langford and Skull Orchard, in which each song title of their album had a painting that went with it.  The most thought provoking of the ‘Skull Orchard’ series, at least displayed at Clay St. Press, was Tom Jones Levitation.

However, the most successful of the ‘Skull Orchard’ series is Deep Sea Diver, which displays a 1950’s style diver-hero sitting in his chair as board attendants readily place his air tight helmet atop his face.  The hero of the story is sitting next to a barrel that reads “BRAINS,” and he himself is finishing a bottle of what I assume to be beer, though could be lemonade or whiskey bourbon.  For his sake, I’m hoping bourbon.

Some viewers will certainly argue that this exhibition is trite because within its oeuvre, it is stylistically monotonous.  ‘We never have to stretch our imagination’ and we’re rolling through the day-by-day making noise and odd things to look at, which is the future.

Jon Langford’s art may, at times, be monotonous, but it is perfect in commitment, perfect in argument, and perfect in what I consider the ‘who-gives-a-mother-fuckin’-fuck-what-you-think.’  After all, his early punk band expressed that.  And, after all, no punk rocker was able to be as hardcore as Hank, Nelson, or my favorite, Townes Van Zandt who Langford has expressed via prints, but, not at the exhibit I witnessed.



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