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Monday, 13 December 2010

The David Jones Pilgrimage

I agonised over the scans of these images. The scanner was continually auto-correcting, filling Jones's flowers with brighter colour and making everything else black and white. I had to change it to professional mode so that it would just pick up what was there, and do justice to all of the subtle inflections of Jones's work. But this isn't the point, the scans only give you a glimmer of an idea of what the work really is. Today my David Jones Pilgrimage reminded me why seeing work in the flesh is a breathtaking, tear-inducing and necessary part of appreciating the artists that you love. For Jones, not being widely read meant that the printing costs of his books were problematic. Most of the reproductions of his paintings, drawings and prints are poor quality, in black and white and often underwhelming. In Kettles Yard, guided by the women who work there, the importance of Jones's art was brought back in to sharp focus.

Vexilla Regis, 1948, Graphite and Watercolour on paper

This might just look like a tangled and wooded work of chaos, but behind the door in Jim Ede's bedroom you can take a moment to look a little deeper in to the tangle. New dimensions and perspectives buried in the branches shift in to focus. We discover Stone Henge embedded on a hill in the distance, mythic horses charging the break and sculpted angels mounted on deteriorated plinths. There is a connection between Jones's paintings, his inscriptions and his poetry; here is all of mythology actively present in the landscape, here is the wooded quarry of Jones's imagination made manifest.

Flora and Calix light, 1950, Graphite and watercolour on paper

Jones's Chalice painting provides an alternative window out of the house. It is a celebration of the wild detritus of a fading bloom. Once again all perspectives exist in tandem so that the floral fireworks and transparent chalice give way to the frame of the window. Often mistaken for a simple vase, the chalice holds imaginative potential and symbolism as a mystical object.
Quia per incarnati, 1953, watercolour on paper

I have already used a scan from this inscription in my post about 'the field between poetry and painting', but the copy was from The Anathemata and was already a grainy black and white reproduction. When I walked downstairs to find 'Quia per incarnati' in the house of the Ede's I had the real revelatory moment of my pilgrimage. Within the pages of the book it is easy to fall in to the fiction and imagine the words carved in stone and to see the inscriptions as a separate genre of work entirely. But this is very much a David Jones painting, the letters finely carved with watercolour and brush, inflected with light touches of colour are a development of visual languages.

I have decided that I could quite happily spend the rest of my life being a super geek and working in the Kettles Yard house. First of all it is just a beautiful space to work in and secondly everybody just kept telling me stories; about Dai (David Jones) dropping sculptures when he came to stay, recalling things they had read in the books (including Jim Ede suggesting Jones was assertive and slept with Petra), and remembering the reactions of visitors to his work.

My new work station amongst the art books!

It would be a pleasure to be adopted in to the small circle of adoring Dai Greatcoat fans. Perhaps stalking Kettles Yard is the way to do it!


  1. Fantastic post. Thanks for sharing those beautiful pictures.

  2. Working at Kettle's Yard on David Jones was one of the most winderful experiences of my life. This was 20 years ago. When they were closing, they left me the key and said to leave it under the mat when I was done. Incidentally, the people at the National Library of Wales are also wonderful, kind and helpful. The David Jones Archive is remarkable.

    Tom Goldpaugh

  3. Sorry about the two typos: wonderful and Kettles.

  4. Tom, thank you for your comment. I hope you will return to see my reply. I am very jealous that you got to go to the David Jones Archive in Wales, if I had more time and deadlines weren't looming I would definitely go. What specifically were you working on with David Jones?

  5. I just found your work 'David Jones and the Cost of Empire', isn't the internet wonderful? I'm going to have a little read.

  6. At the time I was doing my dissertation on what I thought would be David Jones' sacramental aesthetic. Along the way, I found some previously unknown work. I spent the next twenty years periodically visiting the National Library working on the manuscripts. At present I am finishing an edition of the "experiments" that evolved into The Anathemata and the Sleeping Lord collection for University of Wales (if I haven't blown it by being way overdue).
    Given your interests, you might want to check out Colin Wilcockson's article on the inscriptions, also in Flashpoint. He is/was at Cambridge. I have always found that people working on Jones are a pretty friendly and helpful group.

  7. This is what I am finding as well, it feels like I am becoming a small part of a community of Jones-adorers. The edition sounds like an exciting prospects, I have been thinking quite a lot about the relationship between the fragments and The Anathemata. I will be looking out for its publication, good luck with finishing everything.

  8. Great to find you here! Do you know about the DJ Society in North America website at -- I'd love to post your links there, too. And I'm glad you found Tom Goldpaugh's article -- by now you've probably discovered that it's part of a whole online special issue on David Jones. I'm thrilled to see what seems to be a resurgence of interest in him since my own book came out in 1994 - hoping to keep more of us in touch so please keep in touch. There is definitely a community of us "out here" -- Kathy Staudt