Sunday, 3 April 2016

THROUGH THE PORTAL - JAGO STONE ARTIST - PART 2

Detail from 'The Makers of Sweet Smells' - an oil painting by Jago Stone


In my first posting on the subject of Jago Stone nine weeks ago, I explained that my current literary venture was a biography of this artist with a rather extraordinary life story. I had been drawn to this project for a variety of reasons. I had lived with a number of his oil paintings for over four decades and I admired the raw force of his expressionism. The knowledge that he had won the Arthur Koestler prize for prison art towards the end of a long stretch for theft appealed to me. I am a bit of a Romantic, as well as being in the words of a former Mayor here in St Ives, 'a bit of a  Socialist'.  When I was a grammar school kid I had won the Bee's Essay prize the first year it was

awarded for my response to the given title: 'Courage in Adversity'. It is difficult to free oneself completely from the effects of studying Wordsworth and Tennyson as poets, and reading as set texts
Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul by H.G.Wells and My Early Life by W.S. Churchill. As I explained to one of his children who has contacted me in the course of my online detective work, I bring to my work as a biographer not only the detachment and objectivity of the historian but also my own self-knowledge. I am embedded in a cultural and historical nexus. So I hold my hands up: I do have a slice of the Romantic in me. I have empathy for a man such as Jago who can write that he sees himself as a Don Quixote figure tilting at the windmills of convention. A child of the 60s: my self-description.

Was Jago Stone a child of the 60s? Only up to a point, if you accept that a new feminism was one of the fruits of that decade. The power balance between men and women had begun to shift. In my own teaching life, by the turn of the century I was creating lessons around the theme supplied by the TV documentary I showed in class. It was called 'Do Men Hate Women?' and explored the issue of misogyny from a variety of perspectives through the eyes of a high-ranking female police officer who had headed up rape and vice squads in London. Read Jago Stone's autobiography published in 1975 and discover that this is a man who revels in his own Casanova-like pursuit of 'crumpet'. The next book - never to see the light of day - was announced in the 1975 publisher's blurb as 'The Crumpet Hunters', "an episodic account of his sexual  adventures as a roving, randy artist". Jago and the zeitgeist were certainly not connecting here.

And yet ... Read the autobiography with a necessary measure of detachment and discover a tender and loving portrayal of Jago's gay affair with Lover Boy Lindsey in prison. Six paperback pages, one chapter in a thin volume that took Jago less than a month to write. But the man knows how to write. He uses words so well to bring the reader into feeling the bond and its beginning, its course and its ending, in time, after the release of Lindsey.

And if he captures the essence of an affair between two men, Jago could also write very well about  heterosexual relationships. He describes Lorna, the middle-class suburban housewife with whom he had a deep and meaningful affair for some time, as his ever present White Goddess (a reference from Robert Graves' book of the same name). His love for her, he declares, is absolute. She was the first person he had related to since Lyndsey with any sincerity or depth. And all this after she had returned to her executive husband. In five pages this time, an artist's brushstrokes suggest so much. Like the figures in his  'The Fancy Dress Party' on our wall at home. There will be some truth of feeling in these thoughts and words of Jago whatever the self-deception, however deep-rooted the cultural misogyny. And there is always a kind of self-awareness too. 'Criminals are notoriously destructive in their relationships and I was no exception.' Aware but ineluctably trapped. A prisoner of his own psyche.

Detail from a page in my website: www.robdonovan-author.co.uk


I have explained that my research for this biography depended on the internet in the beginning. It started as an online detective story. And so it continues. But new and more embodied dimensions to the research are emerging out of that cyber space. The one that I'll focus on in this blog (saving others for later Jago Stone blogs) features Rebecca J. Cunningham, author of seven full-length novels and a novella focussing on the darker aspects of human relationships. This I found out when googling Rebecca's name as an after-thought having received an email from her out of the blue a couple of weeks ago. In this first email, she explained she was a daughter of Jago Stone ...

In the course of our email correspondence over this last fortnight, I have learned much more about Jago. I have also bought a copy of Rebecca J. Cunningham's 'Stone River Running' (2009) and look  forward to reading it soon. A reviewer writes: 'An impeccable period piece - compassionate and real'. The back cover tells me that 'Haunting the back streets of Birmingham, Stone River Running uncovers lost lives and the judgements of those in authority ... My creative artist, Jago Stone, has a creative writer daughter who has become one of the key sources for my biography. Difficult to make this up.   


I have just finished the 634 pages of John Cowper Powys' masterpiece 'Wolf Solent', so expect a blog review from me very soon.