Author's note: George '2 Quarter George' Jena—aka Geo J.—is an outsider artist and native of New Orleans. Jena's exquisite skill as a draughtsman has brought his drawings a fair amount of interest from New Orleans locals and artists. Inspired by George's line-play I have attempted to write about the artist and his drawings in composed lines, with the hope that by accretion they will meld into an organic story, much like his drawings. The pulsating forms he creates make one aware that life itself is actively present in the space.
"I'm trying to get myself into a Zen state—totally concerned with doing the line—and just forget the intrusive thoughts or the obsessive thoughts, and concentrate on the line," George says.
He's housing-secure right now, but lived on the streets, in parks, and missions when he was boozing it up.
"Picasso, Leonardo, all really great draughtsmen are masters of line," George says. "I've read a lot about Leonardo; he was enigmatic and secretive."
He thinks COVID-19 is going to be much worse than it is, and will cause a lot of anger, but thoughts of contamination do not influence his work.
"I love line and shading," George says.
His favorite karaoke song is "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who, and he kind of talk-sings when he performs it.
"I see the line-plays as organic forms, microscopic forms even; they're closely related to fractals but they're not fractals; they're just improved, spontaneous line-play that creates forms."—George Jena
Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer is his favorite movie adapted from a play.
"I see a thumb, a tree stump with rings, I see South America," George says in a sing-song.
He was born in New Orleans, "on the dysfunctional side of the tracks."
"My background borders on the psychiatric, a lot of beatings. In school, terrible experiences, I don't want to go there."
A bright spot was studying with Ellis Marsalis in high school.
Are his line-plays born of synesthesia? He won't say, only that he likes the word synesthesia, and repeats it.
"You can turn the line-plays every which way," he says, and pointing to a smudge, "here's a little coffee stain."
I say the line-plays are vascular, suggestive of circulation.
He says no two are ever going to be alike.
George is very partial to Speedball pigmented acrylic ink, and next time some money comes his way he's going to get a calligraphy set.
"I love nibs and quill pens; I buy pens in bulk," he says.
He draws fashion models from pictures in Elle Magazine, Nefertiti from Egyptian art books, his friend Olivia's "Bob Dylan" nose, Alexander the Great.
"I haven't had an Art in America magazine in quite some time, I'm doing my own thing, not interested in a gallery just yet. I'm going to be an Outsider like I've always been and just do them because I want to do them—not to set the art world on fire—which I really don't care about."
He's worked in restaurants, construction crews, as a haberdasher—"we had a lot of sales, I love hats"—and as an art model known for holding striking and complicated poses for long durations.
During Katrina, George ended up in the Superdome for six days, confined with 40,000 other people, which was "a small taste of the apocalyptic."
"The world is painful, let's face it. It has its little relief moments. Art can be a site of relief, it can be. But also of angst."
"It made me wish I was a writer; I'd like to balladeer about those experiences," says George.
He has seen the Pacific Ocean, and loves the Santa Monica Pier and the way the sandpipers run back and forth from the tide.
"I love walking around the part of Audubon Park where you have a little island with egrets and herons and turtles."
"I don't want to see the rise of fascism," George says. "I want to read Slaughterhouse Five."
He draws seated.
He likes spaghetti and marinara sauce.
"The state I want to get into every time I draw is when you're focused and literally not aware of time, almost like a trance state—something different can emerge than from a normal state."
Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, rice dishes, gumbo, Creole, red beans and rice with sausage too.
He's of mixed ancestry: Spanish, French and North African. Mom's side is Scotts-Irish.
He experiences no creativity with alcohol, even though some of the artists he admires most were extreme alcoholics, like Tennessee Williams.
George loves maps, loves globes, geological maps, with no borders, with the mountains and elevations, the topographic maps, flatness versus hilliness.
He was in Aspen and saw the Rockies, 8000 feet above sea level in 1979.
He lost his dad in 2003, and mom died right before Katrina. He lives with his brother.
He started drawing when he was 12, magazine pictures, mountain scenes, "pictures from my head."
"My balance is off, it's been off since I broke my ankle; my whole teenage years, all I did was look at art books."
George has never driven, but is fascinated by cars, and knows his models—Ferrari and Corvette; he has a crazy fascination for firearms, is familiar with the ballistics—"a 30-caliber round, that's a very powerful weapon," he says.
A food bank delivery comes to the house once a month.
He loves Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell who "were the closest of collaborators, but then they had a hideous argument."
Locals know him as "2 Quarter" George from when he was "a bum, panhandler and alcoholic," he says.
"I still am." he says.
His health is pretty good aside from the bone injuries. He says he never gets a cold or the flu, has a good constitution, and has always been thin—could run very fast, walk a great distance.
"The angst is I'll never be as good as I want to be, but just do it anyway."
In 2014 he traveled with his friend Olivia to New York City to go to three museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, and New York's Museum of Modern Art.
"People were so friendly, they gave us free tickets to MoMA. We saw Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory and we have a picture of us standing before Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night," he says. "Then we went to Coney Island."