The Way It Was
LOCAL FOLK ARTIST J-MAN’S NEW SERIES CAPTURES THE ESSENCE OF OLD OXFORD.
WRITTEN BY Andi Sherrill Bedsworth | ILLUSTRATED BY J-MAN
J-MAN’s colorful folk-art paintings have graced galleries and markets for many years now in and around Oxford. J-MAN (aka Jason Heavner), his wife, Amanda, and his daughter, Lyric, have called Oxford home since 2003.
Though all of his work is intriguing, J-MAN’s new series immortalizing old local haunts in his signature style is sure to conjure up memories of Oxford in times gone by.
“I started this series of paintings in September to remind people what Oxford used to be like,” J-MAN said. “I don’t believe in ‘the good ol’ days,’ but I haven’t met anyone that has been here as long as I have that believes Oxford is better now than it was.”
The series is titled “The Way It Was.”
“It’s not just about places, but faces as well,” J-MAN said. “So many folks have gone, whether passing on or moving away. I would just hate to see it all forgotten.”
The paintings are latex house paint on plywood. While the process varies for each painting, they all start with photos.
Some of the buildings depicted are no longer standing, and some now house other businesses. Research is sometimes required to reconstruct the history and accurately capture each image.
“A lot of these paintings have been painted from horrible photos and a fuzzy memory,” J-MAN said. “This would have been pre-smartphone, so everyone didn’t have a camera at their fingertips. When I need a photo to work from, I typically go to John Cofield. He has such an extensive collection of Oxford historical pics and is such an awesome supporter of the arts.”
J-MAN’s art prints can be purchased at etsy.com/shop/JMANworld.
Lauren West Cleary of Oxford recently added this piece to her growing collection of J-MAN art.
Cleary: “We own the commercial space where it once was, now the Monroe building on the Square. It’s a special place to me and my family, not only because of the history, but because of the future. I find myself drawn to the style of J-MAN’s work, the grassroots folk art and all of the colors.”
MURFF'S: THE CENTER OF LIFE
J-MAN: I used to manage Off Square Books back in the day. We had a secret book-signing by Oxford’s own John Grisham late one night after the store had closed. This involved a cooler full of beer and orders to keep our mouths shut so we wouldn’t say anything to offend Mr. Grisham. After several beers and about 500 books signed, we decided to take a break. So, we went to Murff’s. I hustled a game of pool and made a quick $20, then went back out into the alley to smoke a cigarette. The tornado sirens were going off. John Grisham was on the phone with his wife. Us Square Books employees were all drunk and smoking in the alley with no cares in the world. So, I got drunk with John Grisham and rode out a tornado warning in the alley in front of Murff’s. Good times.”
BETTY DAVIS GROCERY
Mary Jennifer Russell of New Albany owns several of J-MAN’s paintings and recently purchased this one.
Russell: “The Betty Davis painting was purchased as a gift — maybe — for my Yankee brother-in-law from Michigan. The men in my family took him fishing on his first trip to Mississippi, and, after a long drive through the country, they stopped for cold beer there. He was feeling some misery vibes and was scared to get out of the car. I just always thought that was funny.”
LAFAYETTE COUNTY COTTON FIELD
Many Southerners have painted the cotton fields that bloom in our countryside in the fall. J-MAN puts his own colorful spin on this iconic autumn scene.
J-MAN: “What can I say? Cotton fields are the one thing that haven’t changed in Oxford.”
The original painting now belongs in the private collection of Jason Plunk.
Plunk: “They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I worked at Ireland’s back in the day and as such, was entitled to avoid the lines and slip through the kitchen to see bands like Meet the Press, The Memphis Icebreakers, and The Bouffants. … Fun times back then.”
J-MAN: “Parrish’s was one of my favorite hangouts in town, though I didn’t hang out there much. I saw a lot of good bands there and tried to start a mosh pit with Tyler Keith more than once.”
ST. PETER'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Another icon on the Square that has been rendered by local artists many times.
J-MAN: “It is a beautiful building.”