In New Gallery Show, Guerrilla Artist Displays Black Americans’ Struggles — and Success

Ronald L. Jones and his mixed-media piece 'Black [Life Defined By A Construct]'

Black [Between The Lines] is a new, provocatively titled exhibition by Houston artist Ronald Llewellyn Jones, on view through March 5 at Hooks-Epstein Galleries. This is Jones’ first solo gallery show, and the first Hooks-Epstein show in the New Year since its director Geri Hooks passed in June.

Jones is a self-taught multidisciplinary artist, known for his site-specific sculptures — works he installs “guerrilla” style in outdoor locations, as well as in traditional galleries and museums. Using of long strands of string secured to the ceiling, walls and floors of the gallery, Jones challenges the viewer to navigate areas of inaccessibility, and consider how societal constructs can quite literally impede freedom of movement, and communication across class, ethnicity and gender.

These elaborate webs also represent a neural network of African American endeavors, reminding the viewer that the contributions of Black Americans, from slavery to the present day, must be acknowledged in any discussion of our country’s historical narrative. On yet another level, Jones’ complex use of string connects back to the history of avant-garde art in the West, one example being Duchamp’s “one mile of string” installed for the 1942 exhibition First Papers of Surrealism.

Inside Hooks-Epstein, Jones has created two webs, one stretched above a 20-inch box sculpture titled Black [Life Defined By A Construct]. Inside the “construct” of the box, suspended by thin, near invisible wires, are squares of transparent plexiglass and a self-portrait based on a drawing Jones made during a period in his life when he was homeless. Tellingly, there is no glass front; one can reach inside and presumably, the bespectacled Jones has found a “way out.” (The gold ink used in the drawing signifies one’s “inner gold” and its promise of transformation.)

Meanwhile, near the entrance of the gallery, a second web emerges out of a pedestal or wishing well containing more plexiglass and gold threads, supporting several tiny sculptures of individual plots of land, each with its own miniature caretaker. Titled The Souls of Black Folk after the book by W.E.B. Du Bois, the work is a rough-hewn, yet elegant representation of humankind’s interconnectedness, and our potential as a global tribe to reject the constructs designed to keep us fearful and apart.

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