Savannah Based Artist Jim Cone Is A Man On Fire

Artist Jim Cone with a piece of his artwork.

When Jim Cone visited the owner of 24e, a Savannah Georgia based business, he was pitching an idea he had to have a show like no other and he wanted to host it at Ruel Joyner’s store.

The artist in Jim knew there no was better location to have the show since 24e is one of the most eclectic, coolest stores in this region and the alignment to his work could not be more perfect. But something else caught Ruel‘s eye. As Jim was laying out the plan, Ruel noticed  above the artists head in a distance was the only Picasso that was hanging in the store. Heck, perhaps the only in this region. Ruel was dumbstruck… so much so, he whipped out his phone and snapped a shot to capture the moment. A few months later, the store turned gallery hosted hundreds of curious art lovers and Jim Cone’s dream had come to life. By the way, Jim was also fresh off fighting a bout of cancer that normally wins, but after losing half of his jaw and tongue, Jim emerged victorious. He has been there and back and wants to give back to those that made sure he was here to fight another day. 

Soft sun warms the walls of 24e, an upscale furniture gallery on Broughton Street in downtown Savannah. Jim Cone, clad in white trousers and baby blue button up shirt, adjusts a painting—his painting—that hangs beside one of the second floor’s unadorned 10-foot arched windows. Cone steps away, then steps forward to gently tap the painting. When it is square, he steps back again, shoulders loosened. The gentle caress of sunlight on Cone’s smile reveals the asymmetry of his jaw.

“I’m just recovering from cancer,” he says, “if you have a hard time understanding me, tell me to slow down.” Though muffled, his words are discernible, which is a genuine miracle. Jim Cone battled the odds against an aggressive, near-fatal form of tongue cancer. Now at the window, triumphant and glowing in the afternoon sun, Cone gets to revel in the glory of sharing his art with the world.

My Savannah II,Jim Cone

But Cone doesn’t consider himself a trained painter. With a handful of art and painting classes under his belt, he mostly relies on his own perspective of form and color to shape his art.  In the 1970’s he painted marsh landscapes that sold on River Street. “But I got too wrapped up in thinking about how to sell it all,” recalls Cone, “the commercial part started eating away at the creative process.” In 1980, he vowed to paint only for himself; no more commissions and no more worrying about how to sell his work. He continued painting, though, with a passion that rarified and refined his art into what it is today.

And so two parallel careers emerged. By day he worked for Georgia Power, handling downtown Savannah commercial accounts for over 30 years. All the hotel and restaurant staffs knew Cone. “He was the guy who, even if a place lost power in the middle of the night, Jim would be on the scene figuring out how to get the lights back on,” recalls Ruel Joyner, owner of 24e. “The restaurants loved him because Jim really understood that no power meant no food, meant no customers, meant no money.” Revered for his work at the utility company, in 2016 Savannah Tourism Leadership Council named Cone a Community Champion.

But at night, on weekends and whenever he could, Jim Cone painted—to date he’s created more than 600 paintings and sculptures, his work clearly influenced by the cubism of Braque and Picasso. But instead of earth tones and muted colors, Cone’s work evolved into portraits based on highly saturated cubes, cones, and spheres of color. “Picasso kicked the door of cubism open, I walked through and went my own way,” says Cone.

Woman in Red Scarf,Jim Cone

His painting, “Yellow Cat,” conveys that well. A large tabby sits as the focal point, painted with the angular majesty reminiscent of the Egyptian pyramids. Red, green, and blue geometries stand behind the regal feline.  “That’s the one I’d like to make into a book for children,” muses Cone, “for them to learn about cubism at an early age.” The image is robust, playful, and fun in a way different from the works of Braque and Picasso. “Yellow Cat” is accessible.

The light from the window catches his eye, and Cone goes into the friendship of Braque and Picasso, speaking about how Cezanne mentored both when they were young men. “These artists were visually creating motion and simultaneous, multiple dimensions,” Cone continues, the sunlight dancing in his eyes. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful for children to learn about them at a young age?” Cone’s heartfelt respect for Braque, Picasso, and Cezanne shines. 

To read more about Jim Cone, subscribe now or pick up the June/July issue of South magazine.