Jennifer JL Jones’ paintings depict nature, to be sure, but not so much nature per se—its flora and fauna, its landscapes and seascapes—as what it is nature inspires in her. Awe. Gratitude. Connectedness. Grace. Beauty. “Much of my work has been about healing and lessons from nature,” says Jones, who was raised in rural Virginia and the central east coast of Florida. “For a long time it was about soothing and finding peace. My work tends to be emotionally driven so I’m communicating my lessons, energy, and growth through the work. As the work has evolved it’s become increasingly energetic, gestural and yet still holds a peaceful nature. I’ve recently realized my biggest quest has been about belonging and finding a place where I feel at home.”
Jones’ search has been our reward. It’s easy to get lost in her paintings, or to find one’s place in them, feel at home, feel at peace. And those feelings aren’t at odds with each other or the least bit contradictory. And they’re often a swirl of simultaneous emotions. Which is what great art tends to do to people.
Jones knew since junior high school that she wanted to be an artist. Originally, she thought of going into graphic design or photography. “However,” says Jones, who was born in 1971, “once I picked up a paint brush my first year of college, I was hooked and decided I was meant to paint.” Even so, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she took every art class imaginable: film, collage, performance, printmaking, sculpture, art therapy. All of which has since informed her paintings. “I used to incorporate many different elements in to my paintings, but over the years it has become a much more refined process.”
It helped that her parents encouraged all five of their kids to pursue their passions. They themselves did so, so it would’ve been hard to discourage their children from doing the same: they’re both retired now, but are living full-time aboard a sailboat. During Jones’ childhood, her father worked as an airline pilot and her mother worked for a college getting grants for women who were trying to get back into the workplace, before eventually getting a pilot’s license of her own.
Clearly, the Joneses are a clan to keep up with.
Which may explain Jones’ drive for that sense of place and what infuses her work with such energy and elan. That, and her technique and the array of artists that inspire her. Her favorites range from Titian and Hieronymous Bosch to Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell. And her process is unique—impressionistically abstract, as if through a scrim of encaustic. It’s a layered glazing technique that she learned in Chicago, while studying the Old Masters’ techniques.
“I knew then that my work would involve layers of time and transition and growth,” explains Jones. “I like to add and subtract the paint. It’s important for me to find balance in materials and composition. The encaustic look may be because of this layering but also the final glaze that put on to seal the paintings which adds to the rich depth as well as protects them from elements.”
It’s also a bit of a cross between ukio-e, the Japanese “pictures of the floating world” genre that flourished between the 17th and 19th centuries, and Erté, the Russian-born French designer whose elegant illustrations epitomized the Art Deco era of the 1920s. Each of these, only florid and bursting with color and energy and whatever emotions the place she’s painting evokes in her. Places that excite her, pique her curiosity, bring her peace. “I travel as much as I can because it opens my heart and mind and grows me in ways I never dreamed,” says Jones, whose inspirations run from Tuscan hillsides to Caribbean islands. “It has healed me and matured me as a woman and an artist.”
Mostly, her work is about beauty—finding beauty, living beautifully, inspiring and honoring beauty. “The most important thing I’m trying to convey is finding peace within/of/between life and death,” says Jones. “My work is about transformation and finding a connection in this world. I want to transport viewers and embrace them through my work. Ultimately it is about energy and feeling a universal connection.”