Differing Dimensions – Des Jones and Tony Roberts

This month The Chicken Gallery is showing work by Des Jones and Tony Roberts.

Des, a local artist born in Johnstown describes himself as being ‘not a rolling stone but one that gathers the moss’. Although he’s had a life-long interest in art, after a degree in geology he worked in the ceramics industry. Since he left, he’s been exhibiting in many places in Shropshire and north Wales. His interests are wide, but he particularly likes drawing and painting jazz and classical musicians, making woodcuts and he’s recently started woodcarving.

Tony’s background is similarly chequered: beginning in a monastery with calligraphy and icons, he went on to clay and then into electronic design. It was only after he set up a consultancy in this field that he turned back to clay ‘as a stress reliever’. Then he tried putting glass into the kiln and the potential of glass art – casting glass not blowing it – fired his imagination. He went on to produce a lot of publicly commissioned work. For 10 years he made monoliths in glass, all basically figurative but as he says ‘abstracted to death’.

Like Des and his musician paintings, Tony’s inspiration comes from people: the figure, face, hand, and what they do. I discovered they both sketch in pubs where, absorbed by the music, people are unaware of their actions and persona and therefore don’t seem to mind the artist’s attention.

Des is interested in the total involvement of the musician, their 110% concentration, verve and energy. He wants to convey the music through the image. But he says getting the movement of the musician is the most difficult thing to achieve. His sketches are often more vibrant because they are so immediate.

His estuary pictures (influenced by Japanese woodcuts) are quite different. He loves that sense of calm in an estuary with its wide low surfaces of earth and sky. But underlying the tranquillity, changes in weather and tide bring unease and uncertainty.

What attracts Tony about glass is the beauty of the refractive and reflective character of light on glass. So, in the gallery his panels hang away from the wall for maximum effect. Or outside they may be hung like mobiles in trees.

But, perhaps rebellious at heart, he likes breaking glassmaking rules: he doesn’t work conventionally. He doesn’t do stained glass, instead he stains glass using metals like silver which produces a brilliant yellow or brass which gives turquoise. The colours can be variable, convoluted and earthy. One of the pieces in the gallery has shattered glass laminated within it.

Recently he’s been asked to make a piece depicting an impression of fish and their flashing colours swimming around coral. Commissions can be challenging and often take him somewhere new, but there is always a difficult…or as he puts it…a hateful side to a commission: hurdles to jump to reach his and the commissioner’s goal.

As I left this interview in the Chicken gallery, I noticed Des was asking Tony if he has any blocks of wood for a carving he’s got in mind. Tony suggests holly which he felled in the wood where he’s recently built his house and workshop. They are friends: that’s why they are exhibiting together. Their art is very different but what they have in common above all is a fascination and excitement in everything they do.

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