Sunday, 15 July 2018

JAGO IN FLIGHT

The Penzance Literary Festival Fringe invited me to give a talk that linked to their theme this year of 'Flight'. Since Jago Stone's life had been touched by this idea of 'flight' in a variety of ways, I did not hesitate in accepting their kind offer. The following blog-post gives my readers the chance to follow my thinking as I teased out how Jago's life had been a story of flight in my talk at the Redwing Gallery on Monday evening, July 9, 2018:

Jago Stone was born in 1928. He lived for 60 years, dying in 1988 - 30 years ago. There are ways in which he spent his whole life in flight. Let's explore first:

THE CHILDHOOD FLIGHT

James Henry Galilee entered this world as a bastard, the standard legal and non-legal term used at that time to describe an illegitimate child. He remained one for 11 years, six years longer than he needed to. When his mother married Wilfred Leonard Stone in 1932, Jago now had a father and by the terms of the Legitimacy Act of 1926 the young boy was entitled to be registered as legitimate. The family did not get round to filling in the paperwork until Jago was aged 11.

Detail from 'The Maker of Sweet Smells' - Jago Stone - 1969


Jago's mother was 18 years old when he was conceived. Who his genetic father was, Jago never discovered. But his genetic grandmother certainly made a tangible impact on his life. Her daughter, Louisa, had brought shame on their respectable and aspiring Quaker household in the Birmingham suburb of Aldridge. Louisa was banished to a nursing home in Surrey to have her child, away from


the gaze of neighbours. And her maternal rights were denied until she had found a man prepared to marry her. Jago was passed over to his aunt for mothering until he was five and his mother, now a shorthand typist at 23, married the 22 year-old Quaker, Wilfred Stone, a steel work machinist.

'Give me a child until he is 7 and I will give you the man'. That proud Jesuit claim underlines the importance of those early years. Jago's head must have been in a spin much of the time as he tried to work out what was going on - a kind of air sickness as he was catapulted through his infancy. When Louisa, his real mum, did get to mother him she kept him away from school until he was 8, according to Jago in one interview. She sensed what he found out as soon as he entered the school gates. In his words: 'I had to go to a council elementary school. And I wasn't fit to face it. I think I retreated. I escaped into a world of my own. And the [real] world became a sort of jungle and has been a jungle for me until I was around 39 years of age' [and was released from HMP Blundeston].  

Untitled - Jago Stone - 1976 (Keith and Joan Goodenough Collection)


In another interview, Jago explained that his criminal career started when he was 8. His first victim was his grandmother. Her jewellery disappeared and no one suspected young Jago - at first. But she had, after all, stolen his childhood, leaving him confused, angry and burdened with issues. Did Jago fly or fight? Both, I think. Flying away from normality and respectability as he fought to make sense of  the cards that had been dealt him.

And then came the Second World War. Jago - the son of Quaker parents with a conscientious objection to all war - what sense did he make of that as his secondary school years passed? My research has drawn a blank on these war years. What I do know is that he was a Borstal boy around the time the war ended in 1945.

JAGO THE THIEF

Merlin Porter - Jago's youngest child - is now an established Oxford artist and has gifted me a variety of source material, not least the tranche of seven downloads that chronicle Jago's early criminal career. This source is from 'Merlin Porter's family connections', to use the phrasing requested by Merlin. You will be able to read these accounts in Jago's biography that I plan to self-publish next year, unless a mainstream publisher picks up the project - but what is clear from these press stories is the degree to which Jago Stone was in flight from reality as he fought the demons left to him from that cruel childhood. His head was still in a spin. But soon prison became the place where he could begin to make sense of the world and himself. Aged 17, Jago - the soldier boy newly conscripted into the army from Borstal - was frightened of going behind real bars and asked the Judge, at his trial for burglary, to spare him - which the Judge did, sending him back to Borstal. Yet very soon Jago was making sense of being behind bars. He had become the recidivist criminal.

Untitled - Jago Stone - 1983 - (Merlin Porter Collection)


JAGO THE ARTIST

When the Governor at Blundeston - Eric Towndrow - finally persuaded Jago Stone, his reluctant artist-prisoner, to enter for the Arnold Koestler National Prize for Prison Art and the recidivist won, Jago's life changed radically. It was as if he had been gifted a first-class air ticket on Concorde, destination Freedom. On his release from HMP Blundeston in 1967, the blue-eyed boy of successful rehabilitation was flying high. His war with society was over. Now he painted in water-colours the homes of those he would once have stolen from. And he found time when he could to paint the palette-knife canvasses that had won him the admiration of art critics.

The interior of HMP Blundeston

You can take the man out of gaol - but it takes longer to free the man from the memories of the prison landscape. Jago talked about how his palette-knife images were soaked in the imagery of life behind  bars. Art critics still find that work of Jago's his most exciting. But by the mid 1970s, that kind of painting seems to have virtually dried up. Had Jago decided to fly higher? Did he no longer want or need that association with imprisonment?

JAGO AS PETER PAN

Peter Pan chose to remain in Never Never Land and remained the child; Wendy returned and matured into the adult woman. Jago and Peter Pan merge at times. Like Peter, Jago found the world of adult responsibilities too burdensome quite often. Peter and Jago did have a track record of fleeing from any commitments. More on that theme in the biography but the fact that Jago had four 'wives', numerous affairs, and at least five children tells its own story. Flying to be free can come at a cost to others.

Jago in 1972 - an extraordinary shirt! Laurian Hagberg remains a mystery - I have no other references to her.  


JAGO AND USAF UPPER HEYFORD

What better way to end this post! Exploring the links between the United States Air Force, its UK base at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, the American air crew who were billeted off base in picturesque English villages - and the eccentric English artist - 'that lovable rascal Jago Stone' - who painted in water-colours their lovely English homes and told such stories about his past. Jago was the master of pitching himself in the appropriate way. He loved the attention and his American clients got good art and a souvenir of their tour in England to take back to their homes in the States.


Untitled miniature - Jago Stone - 1986 - (Jessica Raber Collection) Do notice the birds in flight - they are a Jago motif.


 First, though, the paintings had to be packed away and then loaded on to the transport flights back across the Pond. Jago flying high - higher than ever. An international artist! In the circumstances, hadn't he done well.  

Finally, a link for American readers to explore: please click here.