Kathy Jones | Artist of the Week

Greatly influenced by the environment California has provided her during her formative years as an artist, Kathy Jones emphasizes the fact that growing up in San Francisco has greatly influenced the type of work she is able to create. Educated at Stanford University, Jones paired her innate artistic abilities with influence from formal scholars. Similar to other Bay Area Figurative painters, Kathy Jones typically paints individuals at a specific time and place, which she describes as a “moment between actions.” Jones further explains, “I paint people waiting, or gazing, or pausing, or moving from one place to another.” It is these moments that an individual shares with themselves that create such intriguing and mysterious imagery.

Great detail is put into the textured surface of each one of Jones’ paintings. She explains her process as a delicate balance between color relationships and unexpected juxtapositions. Jones further describes her technique, “I pull color up, push them one against the other and look for places where the colors make the most of each other.” Jones does not try to control what each painting turns into, she allows the artwork to transform and define itself as she continues to add and subtract paint on the canvas.

Jones aims to create paintings that are challenging and provocative to the viewer, asking individuals to look further into her imagery. “My hope is that people who see my work are moved to bring their own history to the painting and to tell their own stories.”

An Interview with Kathy Jones

Why do you do what you do?

I always felt that I belonged in the studio. To this moment, whether I am walking into my studio or into someone else’s, I have this great sense of possibility. Anything can happen in an art studio
I paint, (or draw or sculpt) because there is nothing that I like to do better. Because every piece is an unknown, and every one of them has its own surprises and challenges. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than “making something”.

How do you work?

Particularly when I paint, the images evolve, much like a character in a novelist’s book. The subjects in my paintings take on their own lives and exhibit their own particular emotions. For me, every painting is an adventure and a journey. Painting for me is not a linear process. I don’t set out to produce a painting of “X” and then move smoothly and efficiently to produce that painting. I always start with an idea or a feeling that comes from where I am at the moment, but then the figure in the painting and the painting itself take on its own life. I work toward having the painting surprise me. In the process, I am sometimes delighted and sometimes despairing. My technical process is to start with masses of light and dark and color and to let the figure(s) emerge. I work with both a brush and a knife on canvas. When I am not sure what to do with a canvas, I just let it sit against the wall until it is clear what to do next.

What’s your background?

Before I started painting full-time, I was a university administrator. I was Vice President of Georgetown University, and before that, I was Vice-Chancellor at the University of California, Irvine. My first job at the university was as an illustrator. After a short time doing technical illustration, I moved into designing publications for the campus. I then had the opportunity to move into administration, which was a very rewarding career for me, but I never lost my love of art, and throughout my administrative career, I held on to my easels and paint boxes.

What’s integral to the work of an artist?

Two things… a willingness to work and a willingness to persist. For me, the good thing, (and the tough thing), is that painting is a search that has no end. Someone once asked a famous painter what her favorite painting was and she said, “My next one’. And that is the way I feel. I am always on the hunt for the next step, the painting that is richer, truer, and more complex. And I have no idea where the search will take me. Someone once said as they were starting a painting, “Oh, this one will be easy. And they NEVER are!”

How has your practice changed over time?

I started, as we all do, by learning how to master the material through painting setups, other academic work in the studio, and landscapes. Somewhere along the way, I shifted my perspective from painting what I saw, to painting about how I feel. And that has been the basis of my work ever since. 

My work over the last few years has been an attempt to capture and honor the historical influences on my life from my family and my heritage. Many of these paintings are a tribute to my mother’s extraordinary sense of color and design. Others are reflective of my grandmother and great-grandmother who were such strong women, and still others reflect some of the experiences I have had watching my daughters grow up and become mothers themselves.

What work do you most enjoy doing?

I like to move between different media. I like to work in oil on canvas, in cold wax on canvas. I enjoy clay and mixed media sculptures. I value the opportunity to play as well as paint.

What themes do you pursue?

The figure is central to my work and always has been, starting with the life drawing classes I took in college. Right now, that is all I paint, and all that I want to paint. I feel like I have just scratched the surface of what I can convey through a painting of a single figure.

What’s your favorite or most inspirational place?

I have three places that inspire me, the ocean, the mountains. and my garden. When I am in any of those places, I feel I can breathe.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I have been given a lot of good advice over the years. 

  • Not to take my self too seriously
  • To understand that a failed painting is a necessary step to making a good painting
  • To have faith in myself
  • To be open to change and to trying new things. 
  • To be grateful