I had the privilege of conducting this interview with Joel Carson Jones a couple of years ago. Many of you missed it because there were fewer followers of the blog at that time. I contacted Joel to see what he’s been up to and asked if he would be interested in sharing his latest work and accomplishments with us because I wanted to share his extraordinary interview with you. Thankfully, he agreed.
Joel, what have you been up to since we did this interview? In the years since our first interview together, I’ve continued to explore the balance between order and entropy, the perceived stability of what’s tangible and the ferocity of what we can’t readily sense and must investigate. Without the human form itself present in my work, I’m aware of two essential narratives: the linear and emotional possibilities that could develop within the parameters of my compositions; and what’s outside the frame, what we create, our nature to build, beautify, and shape, what continually buzzes the entropy of the human condition.
I’ve been revising memories of youth, infusing that naivety with the universal naivety, the basic building blocks of our mystery. Somehow, perhaps through age or work or study or even surrender,
Finally, I was honored to have received the Trompe l’oeil Award for the 2014/15 Art Renewal Salon. The show opened at the MEAM Museum, Barcelona Spain. My work is presently hanging for its second opening at the Salmagundi Club, New York City.
“I have the deepest thankfulness for the dedicated, brave, and meticulous artists throughout history, who have struggled with themselves, the daunting greatness of previous masters, and with poverty, fear, and isolation. I am thankful for the artists who have remained true to and refined the classical process in the face of popular trends, financial temptation, and passing movements – artists who have elevated us to the Renaissance after centuries of darkness and now to our modern Renaissance where artists are revering, meditating on, and giving credence to specific everyday objects and ways of life, representing our reality for the betterment, enjoyment, and understanding of others.”
One of the questions I like to ask artist’s that are interviewed is, “How does your work reflect your personality?” The question is a good one because sometimes the answer is not very obvious. That’s not the case with Joel Carson Jones. I’m pretty sure no one would accuse Jones of having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The level of patience, persistence, determination, physical and mental discipline necessary to do what Jones does cannot be denied…and then when you realize most of his paintings are very small, one is doubly impressed.
Absolute attention to detail and a steadfast pursuit of excellence has earned Jones recognition as a “Living Master” by the Art Renewal Center (ARC). I became aware of his work through Facebook, and later, when he won first place in the Trompe l’ oeil Division of the 2011/12 ARC International Salon competition. I appreciate excellence in any form and the art of Joel Carson Jones epitomizes it. I am pleased he agreed to this interview and I am pleased to share his deeply considered answers with you.
What would be your definition of art? I’ve read and listened to so many suppositions and definitions of art. Once I stopped trying to alter myself to fit other people’s philosophies, art became an unexplored part of my life, thoughts, emotions, a paradise, a game that no one around me could see. So my paintings are symbols, snapshots of where I live.
How would you define your role as an artist? My role as an artist is not only to produce paintings to the best of my ability, but to further express and develop my voice, depicting the images and scenarios that reflect the beauty, tension, and intensity of the artistic process. As a private instructor for almost ten years, I believe it is also my responsibility to pass the knowledge I gain onto my students, thus continuing the legacy of the craft of drawing and painting once passed on to me. The instruction I give to my students is enhanced and refined as a result of my own struggles and efforts.
How does one find their individuality as an artist? One finds his individuality as an artist by learning the indispensible basics of technique, practicing them until they become second nature, then using them as the foundation to add to what becomes that artist’s signature style. An artist must also tap into and live in his own process. In that process, he will find the images that will not leave him until they are rendered. It is very difficult not to be influenced by the work of others in a society inundated by technology. Images are found with the click of a button, I made a conscious decision seven years ago to limit myself so as not to be influenced by the works of the masses. As a result, my own voice began to surface.
What exactly is trompe l’ oeil and how does it differ from photorealism? Trompe l’ oeil literally means “fool the eye”. It’s a style of painting in which objects are rendered to look three-dimensional, creating the illusion of reality. Photorealism is exactly that, objects and/or scenes are painted from a photograph and look exactly like a photograph. As a painter of Trompe l’ oeil my goal is to take the work beyond a photo. In order to do this I must rely on what I see and understand about form and texture to enhance the illusion. Most of the Trompe l’ oeil painters I know work from life at some point during the process and I believe it’s through this experience that our paintings take on a different appearance due to the fact that the human eye receives information much differently than a camera records.
So, do you use photography in your work? My work is a balance between photography and working from life. The stages of composition, drawing and the first layer of the painting involve working primarily with the photo. The second layer of each painting is painted from life. My view of the camera is nothing more than a filter presenting me with one side of the story, providing me with the opportunity to closely examine each area of the painting. The second layer involves working from life, at which time I make major color adjustments, refine halftones, and enhance surface textures. I was trained to work from life, and I enjoy that process as well. But there is nothing innately purer about not using photographs. Artists who have strong opinions about that are entitled, but I find the camera, as well as many other advancements in art, have its place, specifically in this case as a reference and filter.
Do you think the process of painting is more important than the result? The process of painting is a paradox, bringing me peace and stability and also providing an arena to face my fears, doubts, and uncertainties. I strive for excellence, the process is also that of becoming someone different, changed, hopefully better in all aspects of life. The quality of my imagery is the primary aspect of the painting process. Many are drawn to the work by its heightened refinement and recognizable value – I consider the result a blueprint of how true I am to my craft and principles.
Many of your paintings contain what are considered toys, why the fascination with these objects? I’m constantly in a state of awareness. Painting has made me hyper sensitive to the daily processes and the larger processes like relationships, the seasons, and aging. If I’m not in a healthy mind frame, the idea of moving toward a place where I’ll never be the same can be frightening. I’ve found that youth, in deep memory, there are solutions to adult stresses and questions. There are opportunities to learn from a time that we often refer to as innocent. I experienced life then without the intensity of society’s filters. A few years ago, I reached a stagnation point and began to think of a time when I was happiest and questioned why. Toys are vehicles that carry energy forward from past periods.
“I believe that realism in art is my realm to stand up to and face fundamental questions of fear, paradox, and beauty. It is here that I am able to synthesize, contrast, fuse, and juxtapose all aspects of life, including childhood innocence, the metaphysical, death, emotion, nature, and the mundane.”
Your work has a lighthearted, almost playful quality. What inspires that? With toys as the subjects for much of my work, I believe simplicity and freedom underlie and create the tension that exists side-by-side with the innocence of childhood. Toys are lightning rods for the multiplicity of youth.
Is there symbolic meaning associated with the objects selected for your paintings? Symbols, as we know, have cultural importance, connecting people to certain morays, meanings, allusions, and beliefs. Symbols are also what an artist cannot let go of. They are objects that distill meaning, philosophy, and breakthroughs. Sometimes the symbolism in my work is not easily accessible; therefore, I try to intensify objects so viewers could relate not only to my symbols but to objects in their own lives that help them get through life on multiple levels.
What is your major consideration when composing a painting? Compositions seem to consider me. In that space between paintings, the best thing I can do is wait, even though I pretend to search for the next, perfect arrangement. What’s really happening, however, is that somewhere in the subconscious realm of my process, images are forming to reveal the next step in my development. Once that image is clear in my mind, I have no choice but to paint it, regardless of concepts, design, color, and mood.
What colors are most often found on your palette? Primarily, Cadmium Yellow Light, Naples Yellow, Cadmium Red Light, French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber and Lamp Black. In the second layer working from life, I’m able to observe additional colors that the camera doesn’t record. The colors are then integrated to my palette to enhance each painting.
Describe your typical block-in technique. I begin each area of the painting by placing my darkest values first. The next step is massing the background or the area surrounding the shape of the object. With the darks and background established, I begin by painting the middle tone and highlight. With the basic form in place I integrate surface textures and then begin rendering.
Do you paint in layers? Yes. My process consists of two layers. The first layer is a slow, opaque layer in which I incorporate as much information as possible. The second layer is a glaze or half paste, depending on the level of refinement I achieved on each area of the first layer.
How do you know when a painting is finished? The French poet and philosopher Paul Valery said: a poem is never finished, only abandoned. I never feel as if a work is finished. I could spend years working on the same painting, tightening it with detail, rearranging elements of composition – as many great artists have done – but deadlines must be met, and the fact that I am a full-time painter requires me to sell my work to make a living. My paintings take about a month to complete, so I am producing between twelve and fifteen pieces a year. I’m a realist artist, and people who enjoy my work, critics, and collectors, center my reputation on the quality of imagery. Regardless of deadlines and bills however, I work until I reach the quality I demand from myself.
Your painting titles are very imaginative. How do you go about selecting them? Titles are extensions of paintings, books, poems – they’re a necessary part of my creative process. If a title doesn’t help spawn an overall work, it comes from the work in progress. Either way, titles are necessary, part of the code of taking a painting from my easel. Often, I’ve noticed the names artists give works fade with time and we’re left with just a popular title associated with the painting’s focal point or its history. I’ll give you an example of painting done by my friend Michael Hockenbury…a colorful, tight rendering of jelly candies falling out of a tin can. He named the painting, “Insinuating Trouble”…a tough title that echoes the tension evoked by worms crawling around together, as opposed to the deep colors, playfulness, and youth of candy. Today, most people who know the painting simply call it “Hockenbury’s Gummy Worms”.
What does it take to become a successful artist? There are many different definitions of success. Some people say that success is not only sales, but higher and higher priced sales. There are many books written about how artists get there, so I won’t offer my opinion. I, on the other hand, have found that success comes through utter discipline to the process. I believe that quality rises, all the time, perhaps not as fast as some would like. Artists I consider successful are driven, disciplined, and dedicated to the craft…qualities that can’t be taught, but rather innate or fought for. Success is doing your best while continuously striving for improvements.
What advice would you have for a young artist/painter? I shy away from advice. I like to find my own advice by asking a lot of specific questions, studying, and by trial and error. If pressed to sum up a bit of advice, I’d keep it as simple as possible: never be satisfied with what you’ve done, look at it instead as a visual of your short-comings and capabilities, then work to improve, finish another and look at the results of that test. This is my process in its mildest form. As long as an artist believes her work isn’t good enough, she will continue to improve.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career, and why? I can’t think of any one painter. I’m more influenced by the character of artists. I like to read about how artists work, regardless of style or background. I’ve always been more moved by dedication than fame. I paint realistically not because I want to emulate other artists, but because my artistic sensibilities are built for this style. I enjoy many genres of art. I know that I judge myself not by how much I produce or how I am received but by what goes into each painting, from idea to having it framed. I constantly try to grow, alter, and make subtle changes that help me become a more efficient and effective painter. Other artists, other people, even my wife, who strives to reach her students on deeper more comprehensive levels, influence how I work each day in my studio.
Why do you enter art competitions and how do you go about selecting paintings for these shows? Competitions give me the feeling of community, the openness of the renegade French salons, offering a place where the art world, artists, collectors. dealers, and art lovers come to enjoy work that wouldn’t otherwise be in the same place. Usually shows are assembled for sales, but in this venue there’s more of a sense of spontaneity and innocence. It’s an aspect of art that is alive, offering so much to so many people. Competitions also give me an opportunity to be exposed to larger and different audiences. I select paintings that are personally symbolic, pieces that I’d like to share with people I’ve never met, what I find to be profound – a word I use without wanting to sound pretentious – in my own life and memories.
When you become discouraged and feel the well is dry, so to speak, what do you do? I don’t usually feel as if the well is dry. I always know there’s something to paint. What happens to me in place of dryness is nervousness and an unsettled feeling that my next composition won’t come together the way I want it to come together. The feeling in between, a feeling of free falling. I know what I’ve done, who I was last month when working on a particular painting, but in that space I’m empty, I’m forced to grow, to expend energy that has already been spent in the frenzy of finishing the last painting. Exercise refocuses me and somehow realigns me. I also like to turn to nature, allow a larger creative process to act on me, show me how there’s no rush, only constant participation in the process. I also go back to youth, places, objects, and I think that’s why so many of my paintings reflect aspects of bygone periods, but to me they are solutions to my setbacks.
What advice would you have for a first-time collector? I’m not a collector of art, my walls aren’t covered like a few of my friends, but there are many paintings that truly move me. The American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York is a collection that refreshes and inspires me. I enjoy images of drawings and paintings from around the world. I enjoy going to shows in person when I’m able. I don’t know the world of art from a collector’s side, so I wouldn’t want to offer advice. I would only suggest that, as a collector-friend told me, collecting is not about quantity, but the quality of the images that are a constant source of whatever it is that underlies art – hope, awe, mystery, creativity, beauty, communication.
Thanks Joel for a great interview.