By Megan Lupo
Canvases home to images of animals and abstract works that physically reached off the surface adorned the Rider art gallery during the Artist Talk of Tracey Jones’ exhibit, Then and Now: A Survey, on Sept. 22.
The textural paintings around the gallery were a reflection of the past 45 years that Jones has been creating art.
Her artistry was reflected in the vibrancy of colors, grids and rocky surfaces of her paintings, which Jones, who has always been “very critical” of her art, has admitted to admiring.
“It sounds gushy, but I’m really impressed that I think they look good,” Jones remarked. “I mean, you can say a lot about them. You know, no one may buy them. I may have to give them all to my poor brothers, but I think it says a lot about me, about my life, what I did. And that’s important.”
As a teacher, the feeling of self-relief and pride in her art was the emotion she tried to instill in her students.
“All of a sudden, you put up your paintings, and it is an emotional experience because you worked on them for so long,” Jones said. “My students, who only made two paintings their entire lives — to exhibit them is the big thing because it has something of you in it, even if it’s only two paintings. When you’re painting, there is a little bit of you in it.”
Who Jones is today, as an artist and teacher, developed when she was a student in school herself.
“I had a traditional art education, so I drew from observation until graduate school,” she said. “Drawing from models and still life setups helped me to develop an analytical eye and discipline. Some images I painted as an undergrad were totally abstract, but there were also figures, animals and landscapes. By the time I left [Cooper Union], the paintings were abstract. Abstract art became my focus at [Syracuse University] and really has been since.”
Although her paintings were defined as abstract, she incorporated some identifiable objects into her works, which were inspired by her dog.
When Jones’ beloved dog, Murray, died, she created what she named a “Murray memorial painting,” which motivated her to include animals, especially dogs, or other figures in a “weird kind of way.”
“They’re sometimes in pieces; like a dog’s head, perhaps, a haunch and a plate and fork,” she said. “They’re not sweet.”
There is no reason as to why Jones painted a mixture of cut-up versions of distinguished objects and indistinguished objects because, to her, there was not really much of a difference.
“One thing you learn is that the line between an abstract form and a recognizable form is thin,” she said. “In fact, it’s not that easy to have shapes that don’t resemble something in our experience.”
To Jones, it was not about the objects in the paintings, as much as what was visually seen on the surface.
“I don’t think the subject matter matters that much,” she said.
What was most significant, Jones noted, was the color sensation and the bumpy texture of her paintings, which made them “look alive.”
“I often will rework a painting that I thought was finished,” Jones explained. “When this happens, I’m painting on a surface that is already uneven. Often the older, drier surface gets pitted as well, which is helpful because it becomes less reflective and more complex.”
This uneven surface of Jones’ paintings mixed with the overhead lights of the gallery make for multiple ways and angles to look at and admire the art.
For Fine Arts Professor and Art Gallery Director Harry Naar, this aspect is very important for any artist.
“You look at your work outside of the environment and away from home, where it was safe, and now it’s open to another kind of environment,” he said. “You wonder, ‘Does the work provoke me to think about things in a different way? Does it direct me to further develop what I’m trying to develop?’”
Though her process of spontaneity and drawing “certain things that come into [her] head,” such as a landscape or a dog, could differ from other artists, this was what made Jones relevant, quirky and important.
“You try to remain fresh, so like a snake, you shed many skins,” she said. “You can end up disappointing people, dealers, for instance, when you alter or reorient yourself, but you must follow your instincts.”
Printed in the 9/28/16 edition.