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Painting a calmer picture

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Road to harmony: Jonah Jones finds cycling and painting helps him to relax (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

In Jonah Jones’s latest show, Subjective Reality, channel markers and sign posts pop up a lot. Sometimes you can find tiny ones sitting in the corner of one of his seascapes, at other times, they are larger and more obvious.

The 52-year-old thinks it is because he has felt lost over the past five years, struggling with depression.

“I have had a bit of a troubled time mood-wise,” Jones said. “I have mild manic depression tendencies. With manic depression you can get very excited and into things, and then go down.”

Jones said people had always called him a bit “dreamy”, but in more recent years the dreaminess turned to something darker.

“I became mostly a house husband,” he said. “I didn’t really want to go anywhere.”

And he did not want to show his work to the public for a long time. His last show was in 2012.

“Now, I am in a good place,” he said.

What helped him get better was cycle riding and painting, and the support of friends, and his partner, Jo Stanton.

Still, he was nervous before the opening of the Bermuda Society of Arts show.

“I don’t really know what the market is like now,” he said. “I know there’s a lot less money around.”

And he was not sure how people would react to a change in style.

“I have been painting what is inside my head these last few years and what is around me,” he said. “Before this, I was doing all these busy Non-Mariners Race paintings and now I have almost gone the other way. Everything is stripped down. There are a few busy ones, but no psychotic raft-up scenes.”

These days, he is more interested in using his art to explore the “big questions” like the passage of time and infinity.

“In the last five years what has changed is the mental process,” he said. “I am older, 52, and don’t have as much energy as I used to. I was in my twenties when I started painting. My paintings are less exuberant and more measured. I am more questioning about each piece. A lot of them get worked and reworked and discarded.”

He called the show Subjective Reality for two reasons; the first because he is pushing more towards the abstract in his work and becoming more subjective; and the second because something that is subjective comes more from inside the mind than from reality.

“I paint more when I am calm, but not down,” he said. “I listen to a lot of jazz when I am in the studio. You do go to that otherworldly space where time becomes irrelevant.”

He likes to paint near his home behind Cambridge Beaches, Sandys.

“I still do a lot of work on location, but the pieces are not necessarily done exclusively on location,” he said. “I might do some colour work on them on location, then work on the rest of the painting in the house.”

He has painted in some difficult situations, such as a tropical storm.

“I have been painting in location, just trying to get the piece finished before the storm came,” he said. “I have painted on boats, which is tricky because they bounce and move around a lot.”

Jones was born in Uxbridge, England, but spent most of his childhood in boarding school.

“I didn’t really have a home town,” he said. “Now he considers Bermuda to be his home town.”

He and his partner came here in 1990. She worked as an accountant and he worked as a waiter at Glencoe, then later as a chef at Mermaid Beach Club and The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

“The idea was to stay two years,” he said.

He had trained as a chef in the Royal Marines, so while working here as a waiter and chef, he did a two-year art programme at Bermuda College.

“I studied with Charles Zuill and Diana Amos,” he said.

He sold his first piece of art at a show at the Bermuda College, a sculpture made out of Bermuda limestone.

In 1999, he left cooking and started painting full time.

Today one of his passions is cycling, which helps him deal with some of the high-energy spurts that can come with manic depression.

“Last year I did a race that was 4,000km,” he said. “I have cycled around Bermuda in excess of 500km in a day, basically 24-hours non-stop cycling. I find a sense of calm and therapy in it. But I don’t just cycle when I am depressed; I just enjoy it. I have always cycled, but maybe not to the degree that I’m doing it now.”

He feels that a lot of men his age struggle with depression, but do not talk about it much.

But he has found that talking to other cycling enthusiasts at races and on social media, that it is not uncommon in the cycling community.

But he would not swap the manic depression for something else, because he would not want to lose the “ups”.

“But it does have to be managed,” he said.

The show at the BSoA runs until June 26.

Road to harmony: Jonah Jones latest work (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Road to harmony: Jonah Jones latest work (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)