Barbara Jones – The Unsophisticated Arts.

Barbara Jones, the English artist, writer and mural painter was way way way before her time. As were her three books “The Unsophisticated Arts” “Design for Death” and Follys and Grottos”.
She belonged to the group of young Royal College of Art artists and illustrators, more well-known than she, who were her contemporaries: John Piper, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious.
In 1951 Barbara organised Black Eyes and Lemonade, a Festival of Britain exhibition of popular and traditional art at the ‘Whitechapel Gallery’. She exhibited what she labelled as the “unsophisticated arts”, a ground breaking body of work recognising working class and very British themes and presented them as valid “art forms”. One of the centre pieces to the exhibition was a recreation of a regular 1950’s front room complete with ceramic tiled fireplace, flying ducks, a standard lamp and geometric hearth-rug. She also curated and arranged many of the art exhibitions at the Royal Festival Hall at that time.


“Before it was generally fashionable to enjoy the decorative and amusing objects produced by popular art, Barbara Jones was already studying them and collecting them, and she did much for them when she put on the exhibition called ‘Black Eyes and Lemonade’ during the Festival of Britain.  Miss Jones’ house in Hampstead, full of curious and delightful things, is a vivid illustration of her impatience with the chastity of conventional ‘good taste’ and her feeling for invention, fantasy and vitality wherever it may be found.” – Taken from the ‘Black Eyes and Lemonade’ exhibition flyer.


I love her book “the Unsophistacated Arts”, Written in 1951 to coincide with the Festival of Britain. Her splendid and richly illustrated survey of British vernacular art. Interested in all things odd, unacknowledged and quirky- with material on firework packaging, taxidermy, pearly Kings and Queens, fairground and circus art, canal boats, seaside, riverside, tattoo art, the decoration of food, waxworks, shops, cemeteries and funerals.  In essence a total recognition of pure british 50’s folk art.
I do think Barbara Jones was fascinating. Her book illustrations and book sleeves gorgeous and highly underrated. She lived and worked in Hampstead, such a shame her home wasn’t pickled and preserved in aspic for future generations, it must have been a treasure trove of inspiration.


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