Obituary: Jeffrey Catherine Jones

Yellow Man by Jeffrey Catherine JonesArtist Jeffrey Catherine Jones died last week on May 19, age 67. I just learned about it a little while ago after checking in with the blog of one of my favorite contemporary authors, Caitlín R. Kiernan (actually  I was looking up how to spell her name; I usually peruse her blog in what passes for morning for me/afternoon for everyone else).

Like many popular cover artists or comics illustrators, Jones is an artist that you and many others may not know by name but nevertheless would recognize her work, even though you may not know it as such when you see it. But if you read fantasy or science fiction you have most likely seen it, at least on bookstore or library shelves. She was quite prolific in the 70s and 80s — she did the art for some 150 book covers through 1976, according to Wikipedia — although she worked right on up until she died, apparently.

Silver Robe by Jeffrey Catherine JonesI first noticed her work on the cover of an Andre Norton novel — which one it was escapes me now — but it was the first time I was so captivated by book cover art that I actually sought to learn more about the artist and see more of their work. This was long before the Internet, which meant consulting card catalogs, making requests for books through librarians, and waiting  — a foreign concept in these days of instant digital gratification.

But I can remember how cool it was when The Studio art book finally arrived at my library, having been reserved for me; this was a collection of Jeffrey Jones’ work, along with artists Bernie Wrightson, Michael William Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith originally published in 1979. Jones shared studio space with them in the 1970s, and I subsequently got turned onto other artists — but Jones’ work captivated me the most.

It was that book that lead me to discover the adult illustrated fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which featured a comic that Jones drew; it (and the magazine in general) made quite an impression on my pre-teen self (probably explains a few things). And comic doesn’t seem like quite the right term — graphic serial, perhaps.

Voyage by Jeffrey Catherine JonesI’ve always hated obituaries — as a reporter I’ve had to write a few, back in the day.  How can you sum up a life in a few words? You simply can’t — certainly not as a stranger.  You could write thousands of pages and still not cover the meaning of a person’s entire life, not really — certainly not those that knew them.

Nevertheless, for what it’s worth …

Jones received a fan artist Hugo Award in 1967 and captured the professional artist Hugo Award in 1970, ’71, and ’72. She received a nomination for a World Fantasy Award for best artist in 1975 and won it eleven years later in 1986. In 1999 she received a nomination for a Chesley Award for artistic achievement; in 2006 she received the accolade of Spectrum Grandmaster.

Born in 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia, Jones went on to lead an interesting life by anyone’s measure before a combination of emphysema and congestive heart failure took her life 67 years later. You can read more about it here in Jeffrey Catherine Jones own words; much of her artwork can also be found at her website. If you’re wondering about the “Jeffrey Catherine,” as she relates in her biography, she had always identified as being a girl, despite having been born a boy.

Some of my early memories come from about the age of 4 or 5. By then I knew I wanted to be a girl. Maybe I was born with a kind of gender inversion —  some call it a birth defect. I know nothing of these things. I do know that my identification has always been with females– in books, movies, art and life. My best friends have always been female and I have always been exclusively physically attracted to females.

So, along comes puberty. Whoa! We were all confused, I know, but within that maelstrom was my desire for, and the desire to be, a girl. Until the age of 12 I knew nothing regarding sexual matters. I saw boys with girls. That’s what I saw. In the south, in the ’50s there were no gays and no lesbians, and certainly no one like me. So I became secretive. In my own mind I became ashamed, guilty and worthless — this was the road I started down so long ago.

Of course I didn’t know back when I first discovered her work that she was transgendered; back then as a kid growing up in Cincinnati in the early 1980s, I would have had no idea what that word even meant. And it goes without saying that it doesn’t matter to me as someone who admires her art, but it seems to me it bears mentioning in her obituary.

Despite identifying as female all her life, she didn’t begin transitioning to a woman until 1998. How difficult that must have been I can’t begin to fathom. Certainly puts one’s own traditional troubles with the opposite sex (or the same sex, if one is so inclined) into perspective — at least I never had to question who was looking back at me in the mirror.

One can’t help but wonder how this psychological trauma influenced her art; she doesn’t really delve into this in her autobiography on her website that I can see (I confess that I’ve only skimmed it at the moment — I didn’t even know she had a website until just now. But she does have some interesting observations on women as artists). If she had never had gender identity issues, what would her art of have been like? The same? Different? If the latter, than how? Then there is the larger question — are we the products of our genetics or our environment? Or some combination?

Jeffrey Catherine Jones, 11/10/1944-5/19/2011

Amazon 0, by Jeffrey Catherine Jones

Biographical sources:

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