M. Henry Jones, who passed away on June 16 at the age of 65, was a singular talent who carved his own path in the 40 years he was a fixture of the East Village art scene. I first became aware of him as the A-V guy at Club 57, the seminal art space of legend and lore. Along with Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, Henry was a student at the School of Visual Arts, pursuing his love of animation that led to the creation of his monumental Soul City, a stroboscopic color film created in collaboration with The Fleshtones. The two-year production of the two-minute film required each individual frame of the group’s performance footage to be precisely cut, tinted and re-photographed.
The mad scientist of downtown, he was always tinkering in his Snake Monkey studio, a Santa’s work-shop of toy-making, sculpture, animation projects, music films, TV commercials, stereoscopic pinhole and zone plate photography, lenticular explorations and experimentations. He also collaboratively developed Fly’s Eye Three Dimensional Photographs that can be viewed with the naked eye without the benefit of special glasses or other interventions.
Visiting him in his studio or running into him in the East Village neighborhood where we both still lived was an adventure in its own right. My head would spin getting lost in the weeds of his enthusiasms, but I’d always walk away elevated by the conversation, inspired by his hands-on approach and dedication, in his words, “to make the world a better place.” Like his mentor the legendary polymath filmmaker and musicologist Harry Smith, Henry couldn’t be fit into a box. A consummate outsider, he never received the acclaim he deserves, his work more about an imagined future than fast fame, his slow-cooking, analog cut-up approach competing with the easy manipulations of photoshop. In a world of self(ie) absorption, he was outer-directed, focused on solving a problem at hand, even if it meant working many years to see the fantastic results. While others looked for fame and fortune, Henry’s quest was to go where no man had gone before, a life time in pursuit of what only he could envision.
The other day, I saw his son Atticus playing ping pong in Tompkins Square Park. I remember him as a kid, with his mom, the filmmaker Rachel Amadeo, picking him up at the Neighborhood School, and with his dad, making drawings in the studio. Now all grown up and tall like Henry, he’s surrounded by friends and a community that recognizes the work his dad left behind. Even as the naysayers say “It couldn’t be done,” there are those among us who are actually doing it. RIP W. Henry Jones.