When Michael Jackson turned towards the crowd after helping Elizabeth Taylor out of the limousine, artist Leon Jones
had skillfully managed to get out in front of everyone else. "Mr. Jackson, Ms. Taylor, would you please autograph my painting?" called Leon from the pressing mass of fans. Michael glanced over and with a huge smile on his face, pointed out the painting to Ms. Taylor who was still adjusting herself after getting out of the limo. Now they were both smiling!
As Michael motioned for the painting to be brought over to them, Ms. Taylor graciously stated that it would be an honor to autograph it. Signed with a silver paint pen, each autograph measures about 12 inches long. It was the only thing either of them signed before disappearing into the building. A Laguna Beach police officer escorted Leon back to his vehicle through a crowd of people trying to 'touch' the painting.
That February 9, 2002 was the first time Leon Jones met Michael Jackson. Little did the self-taught artist realize that the magical experience was just a prelude to a long relationship with Michael Jackson who would later commission him to paint two large murals and a go cart at his sprawling Santa Barbara County residence known as Neverland. These memories are now ones that will haunt him forever.
During the following summer of 2003, Jones spent several months at the ranch, painting what he considers to be some of his best work. However, like most things dealing with Michael Jackson, Jones' encounters prior to his arrival at the ranch were clouded with mystery.
Jones recalls that he was doing portraits outside Café Tu Tu Tango at Universal City Walk, in Universal City, CA, when one day, a gentleman approached him and asked if he could do some work for "his boss." The stranger left him with $500 cash to confirm the commission. Jones was skeptical, to say the least, but a couple of days later, he and his nephew met the same gentleman at a gas station in Santa Barbara, CA. Not knowing their destination, they followed the man up through Los Olivos, CA and reached finally, to his utter amazement the fantastical and secluded Neverland Ranch!
Jones was commissioned by Jackson to paint two, 15-feet-high murals to decorate Jackson's train depot. He did a portrait of Jackson in knight's armor donning angel wings, as well as a large mural of Jackson pointing toward the heavens, surrounded by winged children. Jones reveals that upon seeing his work, the King of Pop grabbed his hand and skipped a block's length with him!
"It was like we were little kids," remembers Jones, who was devastated by Jackson's recent death. "It was just fantastic. When we were there, they treated us like kings and queens. Neverland is designed to make you feel like you don't have any responsibilities. Michael would go up in this tree and write poetry," Jones recalls. "In the day, he'd be sitting over in the tree, and he'd be just Michael."
Born in Odessa, TX and raised in Denver, CO, Leon Jones began painting in pastels at the age of nine before discovering oils at 15. A southern California resident for the past 15 years, Jones, who has received no formal training, possesses the uncanny ability to capture the aura of his subjects with his remarkable airbrush techniques.. His works are indeed hauntingly beautiful as the imagery almost dances off the canvas.
Well known for his celebrity renditions, he has captured a pool of diverse legends, living and departed, including Lucille Ball and Audrey Hepburn, recent stars Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jennifer Lopez and hip hop icons Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Tupac Shakur. His work is so amazingly stunning that many of his paintings are in fact signed by the individual entertainers. Jones owns work autographed by Jay Leno, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Snoop Dogg to name a few. His most recent painting is one dedicated to recently departed Angel's baseball pitcher Nick Adenhart which is signed by 23 of his Angel team members.
Jones' autographed Michael Jackson/Elizabeth Taylor airbrushed portrait is simply magnificent to gaze upon. The untitled work is 36"X48" with each autograph emblazoned in bold silver ink. In the aftermath of Jackson's demise, the work is a destined collector's item.
Jones will auction the masterpiece on Ebay with bidding to start on Friday, July 17. A portion of the profits will be donated to a children's charity.
"I have nothing in my heart but love for Michael Jackson," offers Jones. "My experiences with him will carry me for a lifetime. It is my intention to secure a home for the art where it can be shared and seen by others. And with my decision to make a donation to a children's charity, I know that Michael would not have wanted it any other way."