Oil painter Kathy Jones lives in Midland, Michigan. Her striking abstracts burst with color and energy.
I had the opportunity to interview Kathy and find out more about her life and artwork.
Jason: Are you a full-time artist?
Kathy Jones: I consider myself a full time artist who teaches some to support my habit. I teach figure drawing and abstract painting at the local art center. I have had a studio away from home since 1993. I think this a necessity, especially for women. When I’m in my studio all I do and think about is art, not what’s for dinner, etc. It’s a working studio, a bit messy but I love it. I teach private students in my studio. I paint along side of my students. I also teach figure drawing there every other week. When I’m not making art or mentoring students, I attend art openings, talk to other artists and read about art. I paint in my sleep.
J: How did you get started in art?
KJ: My path to becoming an artist has been very convoluted. I’ve always made art. My earliest memories are of lying on the floor in the attic at 4 years old, drawing on old restaurant tablets that had carbon paper between each sheet. I could make two drawings at one time! I loved drawing with colored pencils in my spare time. In high school I was very active in journalism and English, planning to major in English to become an English teacher but ran out of money so I came home after two years and got a job. After a couple of years as a secretary, the company I was working for trained me to program computers. This was very left-brained and I felt very out of balance. I decided I needed to do something totally different and remembered how much I loved art. So I went out and bought oil paints and an easel but I had no idea how or what to paint. I realized I needed to learn to draw first and bought a couple of how-to books. After rejecting still life’s and landscape, I found I was fascinated by the human figure. I drew myself, my roommates and people reading or studying in the library. I played around with oil paints but didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I got married, moved to New Jersey and became an instant mother of four and six year old boys followed later by my daughter. I was always drawing and was lucky to find a group of people who also wanted to draw the figure so we got together one night a week and took turns modeling. I took ceramics and figure drawing classes when we moved back to Midland.
J: Did your family encourage your art?
KJ: Every Christmas my main gift was art materials. My mother obviously knew my interest in art, but with anything but colored pencils I was told to do it in the basement. It was too messy. She never really encouraged my art. She said I needed to do something that I could support myself with and art wasn’t it.
My husband has always been my biggest fan. He signed me up for my first nude figure drawing class at the local art center. He also made my canvases and ran the house while I was in graduate school. He hauls my paintings to every exhibition.
J: Are there other artists in your family?
KJ: My dad’s mother painted small landscapes but she died when I was very young. Grandfather designed and built wooden boats. Dad and his five brothers were all natural designers and builders and were successful as mechanical engineers, naval engineers, designers and architects. Dad’s sister, my aunt Betsy, painted landscapes and still lifes with oils. My cousin, Glen, is a furniture designer. My younger sister designs and remodels kitchens and bathrooms. My daughter does communication graphics and has recently been painting and doing photography.
J: How much art related education do you have?
KJ: I consider myself to be self taught. I bought a few books on drawing the figure and human anatomy and drew anyone who would sit still. I drew my kids sleeping or watching television. My husband signed me up for a figure drawing class at the art center, but there wasn’t much teaching. I also started working with clay, mostly handbuilding and sculpture (figures again).
We moved to Hong Kong for three years because of my husband’s job. My first official college art class was figure drawing at Hong Kong university. When we moved back to the US I decided to go back to college and finish my degree, changing my focus from English to Art. At the same time I was teaching art in local parochial elementary school. No degree required. I had to learn along with the children but I had a good mentor and my principal supported every crazy idea I came up with. After I finished my undergrad degree the art department head asked me to apply for the MFA program and accept an assistantship in the art dept. I received my MFA in painting on my 50th birthday. I painted at home for two years and then was invited back to my university to teach in the art department.
J: Describe your style and subject matter
KJ: My style is abstract. I sometimes call it expressive abstraction. I call myself a Colorist – my subject is color and energy.
J: How did you develop your style?
KJ: I went to the university primarily to find a model to draw from and ended up with an MFA and an assistantship in art. I was older than faculty and they left me alone to paint. I was teaching or painting 5 days a week. My original subject was the figure. I painted pretty good figures but they seemed to lack something. I started reading about all of the artists who worked with the figure and found there were 3 reasons to paint figure – portrait, narrative or metaphor. None of this fit what I wanted to say. I journaled about why I liked the human figure and discovered that it was the human spirit or energy that attracted me. My figures began to dissolve. Figure and background merged as the figures disappeared. I did a lot of research on artists who used color. The Impressionists found Helmholtz theory of perception an influence on their work. I discovered their use of complementary colors just what I was looking for. When a viewer looks at complementary colors next to each other, the color receptors in the eye vibrate. If I used complementary colors in my paintings I could make the viewer experience energy without them even knowing. The Post Impressionists, Van Gogh and Gauguin, took it further by adding expression of emotion. I journaled about color and realized that each color had a specific meaning to me. Everyone has their own personal emotional reaction to different colors. When I asked a group of 4th graders what color anger was, one boy said anger is purple because my mom goes into a purple rage when she’s angry. All my research focuses on artists who painted with bold color – Bonnard, Nolde, Turner, DeKooning. Pollock. All of their work emanates energy. Picasso helped me understand abstraction. Someone asked him if he ate the fish after he painted it. His answer was “No, I eat the fish and then I paint it” which to me affirmed that art has to come from inside the artist. So my style is energetic. I paint with bold complementary colors using large brushes loaded with at least two shades of a color of paint. I use different tools to apply paint and to mark into the paint. I draw with the tube sometimes. I glaze and wipe the surface. I look for things that focus on or reflect energy – complementary colors, symbols such as the triangle, the spiral and circles (never closed). You will find these in my paintings.
J: What drew you to your subject matter?
KJ: Color and its relationship to energy and emotion.
J: What do you feel is unique about your work?
KJ: I hope my work touches people who see it. My work is personal. I paint from my gut. When I’m painting I think about my life and relationships – the things that I care about. Each color has a personal meaning to everyone. I think my work speaks to people on a personal level. It’s not just about me. It’s about how the colors and the application of paint makes them feel. How it touches them on a deeper level. I title my work but hopefully vague enough to leave room for the viewers interpretation. Everyone who looks at my work sees himself or herself.
J: What are your interests outside of your art?
KJ: I read art books and mysteries. I like to cook Asian foods, mostly Chinese and Malaysian.
J: When did you sell your first artwork?
KJ: I sold a drawing to young boy at a local art fair. He kept coming back looking at a drawing I had priced at $35. He finally came back and said he really loved that drawing but all he had was $7. I saw him all afternoon walking around the art fair with his mom. He carried the drawing with him and had a big smile on his face. A future art buyer.
J: How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?
KJ: I have one local gallery that carries my work but there is a small market in this area. I enter most area shows and have had many solo exhibitions at galleries in mid Michigan. I usually give artist talks with my exhibitions.
I have a website and I post work on Facebook. I obviously need to do more marketing.
J: What do you feel has been your greatest challenge in selling your work?
KJ: The art market in this area is very small. There is only one gallery in town. There are two more each about 45 miles away and both have exhibited my work in group or solo shows. and sold one piece from each exhibition. My biggest challenge at this point is my health keeps me pretty close to home. But it doesn’t keep me from painting.
J: What do you feel you’ve been most successful at in your art, and in your art business?
KJ: My art style is recognizable as mine by most people even when I change series.
J: What other jobs have you held?
KJ: Waitress, pizza maker, secretary, computer systems programmer and designer, elementary school art teacher, preschool art teacher, ceramics teacher, university professor.
J: Do you have a daily routine?
KJ: Exercise 3 mornings a week. Studio usually from 9:30 to 1:30 or 2:00.
Appointments and shopping in afternoon.
In the studio my routine is: I set up my brush cleaning station first. Then I look at my paintings – the new ones and the older ones hanging around the walls. Then I decide what color I start with, put a canvas in my easel and paint.
J: How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?
KJ: 4 to 5 hours a day 3 to 5 days a week in my studio.
Recently I’ve been spending my evenings at home working on my website which still needs work.
J: How much work do you produce per month on average?
KJ: 4 to 6 depending on size. I work on two at a time. My usual size is 48×48 but I’m painting some 36×36 now.
J: Who is your favorite artist from art history (and why), and which of their works is your favorite (and why)?
KJ: My favorite artist is Van Gogh. I could look at his bedroom paintings for hours and see something different every time. I like his bold strokes of color and the thickness of his paint. He uses color in often-unexpected combinations. I saw an exhibit of his work in Amsterdam and was in awe of his still life with sunflowers. I never saw an orange/ochre and turquoise sunflower before. His use of complementary colors express chaos and his paint strokes are total energy.
Right now I’m studying Caravaggio’s work and working on a series of abstract paintings influenced by his composition and use of tenebrism. His figures emerge or explode from the blackness.
J: Thank you, Kathy! You can find more of Kathy’s work at http://www.kathykjones.com/.