G.B. Jones

The Power and the Glory

a survey of drawings, 1985-2005
May 7 - June 4, 2005

A Short Essay by Allyson Mitchell:

Before writing about The Power And The Glory, a survey of GB Jones’ work, I need to state my ambition:

It is hard to write about the work of G B Jones in a way that meets two parallel needs.

The need to recognize the accomplishment of the work
The need to talk about it in a way that is characteristic of the work – sexy, brave, intelligent and subversive.

The work is powerful. It is full of signs, signifiers and codes but it would be wrong to reduce it to its academics. I also have to be clear by confessing that I am completely crushed out.

The illustrations and super 8 film work by GB Jones are accessible and charming in that you can see the human hand that is present in every inch of drawing and filmmaking. This is her approach. I am not being flip when I say that the illustrative work makes me think about high school back row binder drawings. The illustrations are like the sketching of a sex/crush love object for the 1,000th time and finally getting it right. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder and this is why when I look closely at the drawings I can see people I know, people who make up my dykey world and I’m not used to seeing something so fantastically real.

Specifically in her collection of drawings, GB Jones is making image-based stories. Like any good author she is very conscious of what she puts in and what she leaves out. She isn’t providing us with a lot of stuff just because she likes to draw. Consider Fonthill Abbey – there is no horizon line, no trees, no people. This starkness carries into her vignettes of the juvenile delinquents. In these more narrative drawings, she captures the interaction between the characters. More important than the fact that they are buff and/or catholic school girls and/or delinquents – they are talking to each other. GB Jones is after that experience for herself and we are lucky to be a part of her obsession.

Obviously, these drawings are innovative and twenty years later GB Jones is still a pioneer in articulating women as sexual subjects – something that is completely absent from images in popular culture let alone in queer, lesbian or dyke cultures. The most important part of these very rare expressions of sexuality is that she frees our minds to anticipate the possibilities of our own sexualities– female and beyond. In a world that suffers from an inescapable glut of sexualized images of women – why is the work of GB Jones an exception? Not only because it shows women interacting but because of the depictions of our moral struggles as sexual creatures. From the scowling old lady with her judgmental and pokey umbrella to the prison warden with her skivvies in a knot to the clandestine sailor moon fan club meeting to the cop hazing…in every case these women are on the precipice of asking some incredible questions about the implications of their sexualities.

These images are not a standard part of women’s sexual history as they are in gay male culture. Cops and daddies and predatory pick-ups are long a part of gay iconography – but more a part of

women’s lived experiences. This is the intriguing dilemma in GB Jones’ work which asks not simply “are we sexual?” but explores the power dynamics within our sexualities.

When good girls do bad things – that’s sexy. When good girls get bad things done to them – that’s more complicated.

When good girls get bad things done to them by bad women – that’s another layer.

When good girls get bad things done to them by bad women – and it is unclear as to who is bad and who is good – and they get it on….that’s where it becomes interesting to me.

Are you with me?

These images are pushed through a sieve of the familiar to a place that feels less secure than say those found in the works of Tom of Finland or Playboy. Why am I more interested in the works of GB Jones?

Partly it is the things she includes: a garbage can, a drain, the positioning of handle bars, the end of a belt. How much rope do we need to see? Apparently not very much. We are not looking at a jail cell but the hint of confinement.

Partly it is the rendering: the shades of the compelling camel toes, the straining nipples, the cut arms, the sexualized weapons of combat. We get the dangerous possibility of prickly humiliation and the eminent danger that comes with power.

Partly it is the text – “we will check you out here”, “hot dog”, “aliens are here and they’re gay”, “the next lavender panther”. We get the reassurance that politics are sexy and that these outsiders exist in and have to negotiate the same straight world that we do.

These elements are how we are rewarded for paying attention to the detail of the work.

Paying attention to the work is easy because it is sexy. For the same reason, getting the politics is even easier. This isn’t the kind of sexy we are usually served up. These women aren’t objects even when they are the objects of desire in the story. This is the kind of feminism I love. Through The Trouble Makers and the drawings included in The Power and the Glory, G B Jones creates other worlds and possibilities that may look as grimy as the one we inhabit but they are places where the rules around capital and authority are very different. GB Jones’ contribution to our culture through music, text, film and drawing is significant and I’m not sure where we would be right now without her hard work.

The Trouble-makers (1990/98) screens at the gallery as part of Inside Out beginning Fri, May 20, with an opening reception 7 – 10 pm.

Allyson Mitchell would like to thank Deirdre Logue and RM Vaughan for their help with these ideas.