Mobile, AL, USA
Michelle Jones earned her MFA in painting from Massachusetts College of Art in 2005 and a BFA in painting from the University of Mississippi in 2002. A native of central Mississippi, Jones spent eleven years in Boston, MA producing paintings and quilts as well as a handmade children’s clothing line that was sold in boutiques along the East Coast. Jones made the journey back South in 2014 and resides on the Gulf Coast with her husband and daughter. With its sweeping vines, clutches of hanging moss, and mix of live oaks and palm trees, life in the deep south feels a bit like living in a jungle and is a direct influence with her most recent works.
My work reflects a nature that is voluptuous and beautiful, but also confrontational and sinister. Predators are camouflaged or at rest, their lonely idyll an invitation aslant. The worlds I create within my paintings highlight the peril of the wilds, the claustrophobia of unattended growth, but they also urge one to tumble in, to throw off caution and niceties and give in to the excesses of life without constraints. A tiger bathes in a pool or emerges from a dense canopy with the offer of languid freedom only found in the solitude of the terra incognita.
Life on the Gulf Coast is fraught with consequence. We have hurricanes, tornadoes, mold multiplying underneath floorboards and vines pushing through walls, foundations sink and sidewalks buckle. The land here is aggressively active in trying to keep humans at bay. What we have created is not natural or sustainable. If we stopped hacking back the overgrowth and shoring up our homes, this place would fall back into the gulf--which feels like on a small scale what is happening on the planet as a whole.
My work reflects this. The landscape is a protagonist, its obscene lushness often choking out the creatures that inhabit it or a surprise force sweeping through that must be reckoned with. There is beauty to be found in the madness but that distraction could lead to one being swallowed up.
I am interested in chance. I search within drips and splashes of paint, acidic fields and washes of color, to find the lush jungles, pools, and creatures that inhabit my paintings. I think this impulse feels true to life. One can lay all sorts of plans but a random drawing of the stars dumps this surprise circumstance in your lap, and it is up to you to sort it out and create something from the interruption, follow the breadcrumbs out of catastrophe.
Civilizations and empires are lost, choked by their own desires and schemes, but nature reimagines itself and carries on, twisting its tentacles around what once was to create what will be.
"My husband and I moved back to the Gulf Coast of the United States after more than a decade in Boston, MA. Since I made the trek back South, I have more time to work. In Boston, there was this hustle to make rent. After graduate school, I had a handmade kids clothing line that I sold down the East Coast which consumed all of my time. While I have shifted away from fibers, and certainly making a one-woman factory of myself, texture and pattern still creep into my work, residual from spending ten years immersed in cloth. The cost of living is so much cheaper in Alabama that affords me the luxury to be able to be in my studio every day - though I've yet to find a soup dumpling here, so there are certainly trade-offs.
After being married for fourteen years, we also had our first child within the first year of moving here. There were so many transitions at once that I felt particularly isolated. I did not know anyone, much less other artists or makers. Outside of family, it was a solitary existence for literally two years. I felt like a pioneer, like I had hitched my wagon and settled on some wild frontier - which I appreciate sounds ridiculous. The change in surroundings shifted the focus of my paintings from consumption and insatiable desire to what it was like to be alone in a setting you have no control over and no way to escape. I began painting works to come to terms with the excitement and sense of adventure one finds alongside the perils of the unknown.
Studio time is what you make of it. Since becoming a mom, I don’t have the luxury to procrastinate and stare at the carpet in a woebegone state. Moms have to get into the studio and get to work. Before having a child, I thought that a stretch of four or five hours undisturbed was required to even think about going into the studio. Now I can make a lot of magic happen in thirty minutes or an hour. My daughter is in kindergarten and I am beginning to have longer hours in the studio on a regular basis and obviously one’s practice benefits from them. But it is no longer the only way to work.
My advice would be to use what you have. More than long stretches of uninterrupted time, the consistency of being in the studio every day is more important so that once you do come across those golden opportunities of making, you are in practice and you don’t have to waste time spinning your wheels to get going.
I have plans to incorporate my love of fabric and textiles into my exploratory landscapes. Other harbingers, such as snakes, are beginning to creep into my paintings and I'm excited to follow that impulse more fully. I hope to be able to continue to make work full time. That's the dream, right?"