Walks to the Paradise Garden

Walks to the Paradise Garden

First published: Spring 2019
A rediscovered manuscript by Jonathan Williams finally appears in book form, recording richly atmospheric journeys through the American South, where the talents of many notable outsider artists were nurtured. Here, Raw Vision publishes exclusive excerpts

Walks to the Paradise Garden: A Lowdown Southern Odyssey is a new book of historical importance in the outsider art field, the insights of which will help deepen our understanding of the social-cultural environment from which many remarkable creations by self-taught artists of the American South have emerged. Produced by non-profit arts centre Institute 193, in Lexington, Kentucky, this book was written by Jonathan Williams and features photographs by Roger Manley and Guy Mendes. In its preface, the book’s editor, Phillip March Jones, writes:

Walks to the Paradise Garden sat in a box for over twenty years before Mendes pulled it down from a shelf in his studio and said to me, “We should publish this someday.” Six years later, I began retyping the document and searching, with Mendes’ help, for its corresponding images, our only guide being Williams’ original manuscript and an annotated document titled “An approximate table of contents for Walks to the Paradise Garden.” [...] I called Manley, and he began searching through his corresponding archive, too.”

 

 

The book that Williams, Mendes and Manley sought to publish in 1992 was both ahead of and firmly grounded in its time. In it, there were plenty of jokes about the Reagans and former US Vice President Dan Quayle, reviews of the latest food and fashion trends, and visits with artists who were, at the time, still living. Most of these details have survived the editing process, but the artists have not. Fortunately, many of the artists’ works that Williams described have been preserved by museums, foundations and universities that have recognised their value.

Walks to the Paradise Garden is not an art-historical text in the traditional sense, and Williams’ writing veers off often and urgently into his own tastes and preoccupations. Opinions abound: he reviews barbecue restaurants, drops names, gives creative directions to artists’ homes, espouses his own political leanings, and makes plenty of overt references to the male anatomy. This is not a condemnation but rather a warning to those without a sense of humour – this book might not be for you.

Clyde Jones, Haw River Crossing, Bynum, NC, 1988–1989, photo: Roger Manley

The following excerpt include original chapter headings and appear in Williams' American English, complete with his stylistic irregularities. 

"JUNGLE BOY” JONES’ HAW RIVER ANIMAL CROSSING AT BYNUM

Clyde Jones is a retired logger, about fifty years of age, batchin’ it in the pleasantly moribund village of Bynum, down by the River Haw, in Chatham County, North Carolina. Most of “downtown” Bynum has fallen down. Clyde offered me a tubular chair in his front parlor and it too collapsed. Roger Manley thought I’d gone through the floor. No harm done.

Walking through his yard of both homemade and humongous animals, Clyde offered one or two observations: “These things are as wild on the outside as I am on the inside,” and “I made all this up, I’ve got a head full of ideas.” I allowed: “Clyde, I’ll bet the neighbors are sure glad these things don’t move at night.” “There’s something to that,” Clyde allowed back. “What will you do when you’ve used up all the wood and trees there are in Chatham County?” “Move to another county!”
 

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #101