Self-taught artist “Uncle Jack” Dey typically placed his narrative subjects in outdoor settings. Many of these were snow scenes, influenced by two years the artist spent logging and hunting in rural Maine. Dey used stencils to outline his animals—the placid rabbits and circling crows appear in other compositions by the artist—and the horizon line screened by a row of trees also recurs. In this humorously portrayed battle of the sexes, the snow-covered branches and ground emphasize the plight of the lone male figure pursued by seven women armed with spears. Dey’s fanciful composition may allude to the skirmish between Hercules and the Amazons in classical mythology. The artist often used acupuncture in the title of works that depicted figures being wounded, rather than in its usual context of healing.
John William ("Uncle Jack") Dey Accupuncture [sic] Spear Style—Manhunter's [sic ], around 1960–75 Collection of the Akron Art Museum Accupuncture Spear Style—Manhunter's [sic ] is a tongue-in-cheek representation of a skirmish in the infamous, eternal battle between the sexes. Seven women, each bearing a spear and hatchet, chase one man. Just before he runs off the painting's left edge, a redhead gets close enough to plunge her spear into his buttocks, drawing blood. John William Dey (pronounced "dye") reverses the usual relationship between the sexes: the woman sticks a long pointed object into a man as part of a "manhunt." All the participants are naked, which may be appropriate for a sexual conflict, but the nudity is also humorous, given its impracticality for battle—especially in a snow-covered landscape. To confirm the scene's fantastic, ironic nature, Dey wrote its title along the bottom of the image, as he frequently did. He made several "accupuncture" paintings, in each of which the pricking serves to wound rather than heal. In a short biography Dey wrote in 1975 he claimed that his family had lived in seven different places during his youth, including Akron, Ohio; in actuality he grew up in Phoebus, Virginia. Dropping out of school at age eighteen, he worked at a variety of jobs—among these, trapping and lumberjacking in Maine for two years—before joining the Richmond, Virginia, police force in 1942. Married in 1935, Dey and his wife had no children of their own, but he was a favorite of the neighborhood children, who nicknamed him "Uncle Jack." This was the name Dey used as his signature when he suddenly began painting in 1955. He took up art, with which he had no previous experience, to keep busy following his retirement from the force. Dey, who was only forty-three at the time, had been deemed unfit for service due to psychological problems. His first public exhibition was not until 1973, after which his art began to gain wider attention. Painting on fiberboard, Dey created smooth surfaces that glisten with the bright, rich colors of enamel, model-airplane paint.1 Because he used templates to draw animals, his works frequently include the same placid rabbits and circling crows seen here. The template explains their simplified forms, disproportionate scale, and uniformity; though they may be clichés, they are nevertheless reassuringly familiar images from childhood books and school projects. The human figures, seen here only in profile, also have a comforting simplicity, as does the overall design with its repeated forms and rhythms. Perhaps Dey's major appeal comes from his sense of humor and his skill as a visual storyteller, whether his "stories" are inspired by his own life, popular illustrations, or fantasy. The wintry setting in this work is related to Dey's time in Maine, but the story may come from classical mythology. Are these seemingly single-breasted women the famed Greek Amazons who fought with Hercules? In that context the male figure's long hair and beard may reflect illustrations of ancient times. His skin is considerably darker than that of the women, a convention found on ancient Greek vases. Even the type of image—a battle scene replete with multitudes of naked figures in action—was often used by Renaissance and Baroque painters for mythological subjects and classical history. Of course, in the myths, Hercules won. Although there is no doubt that the women will win this skirmish, Dey leaves it unclear whether this is an act of aggression or vengeance, or simply a case of limited supply and overwhelming demand. - Barbara Tannenbaum, 2001 1. Dey started a painting by obtaining a frame, usually purchased at a secondhand store, then making a painting for that frame. Unfortunately, many of these original frames have been removed or lost, which is probably true of Accupuncture Spear Style—Manhunter's. The Akron painting is on the back of a reproduction of a painting by the French Cubist Georges Braque. Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak. Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists. New York: Abbeville, 1990. Wright, R. Lewis, Jeffrey T. Camp, and Chris Gregson. "'Uncle Jack': John William Dey." Clarion 17 (spring 1992): 34–40.
"Uncle Jack" in LR