What happens when you put the famously bedraggled, toothless, and supremely subversive Chitlin Circuit comedienne Jackie "Moms" Mabley together with the hard-drinking Dublin-born painter Francis Bacon? New York artists Deborah Grant, 40, and Jennie C. Jones, 39, have teamed up to investigate the possibility of this posthumous coupling for an upcoming collaborative project: Bacon, Eggs, Toast, and Lard.
The artists met in 1996 at Skowhegan, a residency program in Maine, and were reunited in 2001 for Thelma Golden's influential "Freestyle" exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Since then, they've been running on parallel tracks: both are history buffs who aim to reanimate the annals of modern and contemporary art from an African-American perspective — starting with Alfred H. Barr's paradigmatic 1936 flowchart depicting sanctioned Cubist and abstract art for MoMA. Both also share a keen interest in the history of jazz, as seen in Jones's cassette tape pieces, in which drawings are made from strands of analog recording tape.
Grant's large-scale mixed-media panels — with their cumulative, organic, and at times manic style — contrast nicely with Jones's cool, cerebral approach. At the time of this writing, Jones had combined audio clips from Moms's famous monologue about getting "backhanded" in church by her minister, vaguely discernible SOS excerpts from the mutiny film Battleship Potemkin, and sounds of café chatter, canned laughter, and the repeating crack of a whip. "It's the ephemeral nature of making a disjunctive narrative about these two people that interests me," says Jones. "It brings out the underlying substance as well as the darkness that they overcame in their lives — Francis was whipped by his horse master, and Moms had three abortions."
Bacon, Eggs, Toast, and Lard is an impossible, fascinating séance in paint and sound. And yet, the more you think about it, the less far-fetched it seems. I once read that, as a child, Bacon would pose in front of his mirror wearing a beaded dress, lipstick, and high heels while holding a riding crop and a cigarette extension. It's fun to imagine him up onstage in drag, while Moms-as-bag-lady sweeps the stage with her little broom, belting out another rendition of her 1960s hit "Everything's Gonna Be Alright."
"Jennie C. Jones + Deborah Grant" originally appeared in the December 2008 / January 2009 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' December 2008 / January 2009 Table of Contents.