David Jones outside Faber & Faber, London, 1940s.
Blissett, William, The Long Conversation: A Memoir of David Jones. Oxford University Press, 1981.
Dilworth, Thomas. David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet. London: Cape, 2017.
-----. David Jones in the Great War. London: Enitharmon, 2012.
Hague, René. David Jones. Cardiff: University of Wales, 1975.
Jones, David. 'Autobiographical Talk.' In Epoch and Artist. London: Faber, 1959.
-----. Dai Greatcoat: A Self-Portrait of David Jones in His Letters. Edited by René Hague. London: Faber, 1980.
-----. 'In Illo Tempore.' In The Dying Gaul and Other Essays. Edited by Harman Grisewood. London: Faber, 1978.
Several films about Jones's life and work (by Derek Shiel):
In Search of David Jones: Artist, Soldier, Poet (2012), www.dailymotion.com/video/xu9moy_in-search-of-david-jones-artist-soldier-poet_creation
David Jones Between the Wars: The Years of Achievement (2013), www.dailymotion.com/video/x13fk5l_david-jones-between-the-wars-the-years-of-achievement_creation
David Jones: Innovation and Consolidation (2015), online release forthcoming
David Jones was born in the district of Brockley, on the southeast side of London (his mother's native place) in 1895. His father was a Welsh emigré to London, where he worked as a printer. Jones received little formal education aside from art school (at the Camberwell School of Art, 1909-14, and later the Westminster School of Art, 1919-21), but was extremely receptive from a young age and by his teens was familiar with Welsh mythology, as well as Latin and Old English poetry.
Eager to serve at the outbreak of the First World War, he was nonetheless rejected from two regiments before enlisting in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, with whom he fought from 1915-19 as a private and mostly in the trenches. The Great War crucially shaped his imagination and inspired his first poetic work, In Parenthesis, published in 1937, and hailed by T.S. Eliot as 'a work of genius.' He received similar approbation throughout his career from W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Hugh McDiarmid, Kathleen Raine, R.S. Thomas, Evelyn Waugh, Seamus Heaney, Igor Stravinsky and many others.
Throughout the 1920s, he trained with the artisans of the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic, an experimental Roman Catholic artist community founded on the principles of Distributism, at Ditchling, Sussex and headed by Eric Gill and others. He himself converted to Catholicism in 1921, and the Catholic 'mythos,' as he termed it, (particularly the Catholic Mass) also became a profound source of inspiration for his art and thinking.
Although impeded by several nervous breakdowns in the 30s and 40s, Jones pursued a life totally dedicated to painting and writing. In 1952, he published his second major writing, The Anathemata, which traces the course of Western culture in light of its various geographical, mythical, historical and religious roots, using the Roman Catholic Mass as a significant framework.
Although engaged once and deeply in love several times, Jones never married. For most of his adult life, he lived alone in various locations in London and Sussex, usually in a single room in a boarding house, but surrounded by a joyful chaos of artworks, artist tools, books, papers and few other possessions.
Although latterly something of a recluse, Jones wrote an extensive correspondence and had an exceptionally wide range of friends, many of them in the Catholic 'Chelsea Group,' including the historian, Christopher Dawson, publisher Tom Burns, and BBC executive Harman Grisewood. Others ranged from working artists (including some of those listed above) to schoolteachers, scholars, aristocrats, publishers, priests, and anyone who could hold an interesting conversation. He died in Harrow on the northwest side of London in 1974 after complications surrounding a stroke.
Y Cyfarchiad I Fair
('Annunciation in a Welsh Hill Setting,' 1963)
Bankes, Ariane and Paul Hills. The Art of David Jones. London: Lund Humphries, 2015.
Dilworth, Thomas. The Shape of Meaning in the Poetry of David Jones. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1988.
Gray, Nicolete. The Paintings of David Jones. London: Lund Humphries, 1989.
-----. The Painted Inscriptions of David Jones. G. Fraser, 1981.
Hills, Paul. David Jones. London: Tate Gallery, 1981.
Jones, David. In Parenthesis. London: Faber, 1937.
-----. The Anathemata: Fragments of an Attempted Writing. London: Faber, 1952.
-----. The Sleeping Lord and Other Fragments. London: Faber, 1974.
Miles, Jonathan and Derek Shiel, David Jones: The Maker Unmade. Bridgend: Seren, 1995.
David Jones occupies an unusual place in the biography of the 20th century artistic scene. He straddles the domains of both poetry and painting, found in that rare margin of artists (such as William Blake) who navigate the full range of poiesis, (one of Jones's favourite words), and who are hence known equally as poets and visual artists. Jones was profoundly moved by the archaeology both of symbols and words and always sought to evoke the various layers of meaning that a single shape or sound could contain. His sense of artistic form, therefore, always hinges on the radical particularity of shapes and sounds, which he uses as vessels to make present the more remote realities of myth, religion and history.
Like other great poets of his generation such as Eliot, Joyce and Pound, Jones's style has been considered 'densely allusive,' 'fragmented' and 'palimpsestic,' but Jones always insisted that he was not expressly trying to be experimental in his work. He stated, rather, that the similarity between his own style and the fragmentation and allusiveness of his modernist contemporaries indicated a participation in the common 'civilisational situation' in which they found themselves in in the first part of the 20th century, particularly following the shattering experience of the First World War in western culture at large, in which artists were looking for new ways to understand the relationship between the past and the present.
Although 'backward' at his lessons as a child, including difficulty learning to read, Jones practiced the arts of drawing and painting from his earliest childhood with prodigious skill. His first drawing of a Dancing Bear from 1902 (at age 7) remained one of his favorite drawings throughout his life. Jones trained with A.S. Hartrick at the Camberwell School of Art and later under Walter Bayes, Walter Sickert, and Bernard Meninsky at the Westminster School of Art, with a leaning towards illustration.
In the 1920s, under the supervision of several craftsman at the artists' community in Ditchling he began learning the art of engraving (and some carpentry) in addition to painting and drawing. 1925-1933 saw the period of greatest productivity in his painting career in which he was showing his work regularly and came under the patronage of Jim Ede, Helen Sutherland and Kenneth Clark. During this time he completed over 200 works, most of them engravings (such as the Jonah series, 1926) and subtle watercolours of domestic scenes and landscapes (often with allusive titles such as Montes et Omnes Colles, 1928). In 1928, Jones was elected to the prestigious '7 & 5 Society' (by Ben Nicholson), but as he put it never totally 'went abstract' as membership eventually required and was voted out in 1936.
Jones intuited a fundamental unity in the creation of all artistic media. In 1928, he therefore also began his attempt to transfer his skills as a painter to the medium of words in order to give a voice to his experience of the First World War. What began as simply a 'shape in words,' as he called it, would soon become his first long 'writing' (he resisted calling it either 'poetry' or 'prose'), eventually titled, In Parenthesis, and published in 1937.
From the 1930s, Jones began to write and paint in tandem and in 1952 he published his second long writing, The Anathemata, (accompanied by several plates).
Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s Jones become increasingly interested in the overlap of word and image, in some cases making paintings out of fragments of texts which he called 'painted inscriptions' (for instance, Ex Devina 1956). He otherwise emphasised the literary quality of visual symbolism, choosing especially to give visual form to myths and religious mysteries (such as Y Cyfarchiad I Fair, aka 'Annunciation in a Welsh Hill Setting, 1963). He published a final collection of mid-length poems in the year of his death (1974) titled, The Sleeping Lord and Other Fragments, in which the thoughts and conflicts of Roman and Celtic historical-mythical figures parallel 20th-century concerns about nationhood, art and religious belief.
Jones, David. Epoch and Artist. London: Faber, 1959.
-----. The Dying Gaul and Other Essays, ed. Harman Grisewood. London: Faber, 1978.
Miles, Jonathan. Backgrounds to David Jones: A Study in the Sources and Drafts. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1990.
Robichaud, Paul. Making the Past Present: David Jones, the Middle Ages and Modernism. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2007.
Schwartz, Adam. The Third Spring: G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson and David Jones. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2005.
Although Jones had very little formal education outside of art school, he led an enormously active intellectual life, maintained by his extensive reading and conversations with friends. He wrote over 40 essays, some of which were published posthumously, and which are now mostly contained in the collections, Epoch and Artist (1959), and The Dying Gaul and Other Writings (1978).
The thinking of David Jones primarily revolves around one central quandary: the nature of 'making,' (poiesis) particularly sign-making, and its place in human life. In pursuit of this question he meditates on topics as varied as the nature of contemporary artistic form, modern sacred art, the nature of warfare, the origins of British and Western culture, the 20th-century changes to the Roman Catholic Mass, Welsh nationalism, and many others.
In the 'speculative' dimension of this discussion, Jones asks what an artwork is and how it operates, and what it has in common with the impulse in human beings to worship. Jones considered the art of human sign-making to be closely related to the notion of 'sacrament,' a term borrowed from religious practice. One of Jones's best-known essays, 'Art and Sacrament,' (1955) considers the relationship of sign-making and sacrament at length, insisting that both have in common 'a "re-presenting," a "showing again under other forms," an "effective recalling",' even if in different degrees and according to different modes.
In the 'practical' realm, Jones asks what the role of the artist is in a society, how art relates to other kinds of human work, and how it relates to human happiness, particularly how it plays a part in the contrast between what Jones called 'culture' and 'civilisation,' terms he borrows from Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West (1916), and which he developed under the influence of his friend, the historian, Christopher Dawson (pictured). Along with Eric Gill and in keeping with the sentiments of the 19th-century Arts & Crafts movement of Morris, Ruskin, etc., Jones saw the effects of industrialisation as having a corrupting influence on the core identity of human beings as 'makers' and spiritual beings, particularly in the separation of individuals from their own means of production, and, in the increasing focus on utility and consumerism at the expense of beauty and sensitivity to the natural and the spiritual worlds.
The philosophy of Jacques Maritain (pictured) and his work Art et Scholastique (1920), translated by Fr. John O'Connor as The Philosophy of Art and printed at Ditchling in 1923, articulated many of Jones's own theories about both the nature of an artwork and the role of the artist in society and Jones considered him a singular influence on his own thinking. Jones also found extraordinary inspiration from the French Jesuit theologian, Maurice de la Taille, whose work on the theology of the Catholic Mass emphasises the parallel between art and sacrament.
Film Clip (by Tristram Powell) of David Jones discussing his philosophy of art in an interview with Saunders Lewis: