Unlocking Paul Jones’ Dog’s Secrets

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Texas artist Paul Jones is one of my flickr buddies. I’ve been watching him put up image after image of his paintings recently each one more interesting and enigmatic. He’s great with portraits, his colors are bright and engaging, and his dogs, well they’re a tough crowd whispering secrets and having meetings in the forest at night. Spooky, cartoonish and just this side of outsider art, the work intrigued me and I wanted to know more.

So I wrote the artist to ask if he’d answer some questions. He said yes and we did an email Q&A. His answers are smart and interesting and I have to say that while I have not seen these paintings in the real world I hope to see them in person some day. For larger views of Jones’ art go to the artist’s flickr site. And for more behind the scenes, check out his website which includes a memoir short story called “The Dance” and also has a fun links page where I discovered scribbler an interactive drawing site where you draw a simple picture with your mouse and push a button and the program etch-a-sketches your drawing. It’s a site I could easily become addicted to.

RF You are a natural cartoonist and I mean that as a compliment. Have you always made cartoons? Did you make comic books when you were a teen (or pre-teen)? If so did they have stories or were they one-panel cartoons?

PJ I have always drawn cartoons. I used to love Mad Magazine as a kid and was a big fan of Don Martin. I used to try to copy his style and draw all over my folders and the bunks at summer camp. I realized early that people liked my drawings, especially if they were pictures of the teacher or some kid and so I used my skills for evil. I was always drawing caricatures of people and usually they were not very flattering. My first commissions were in junior high when I would sell pictures of Mickey Mouse flipping off the Ayatollah, for a quarter.

(this image, like most of the images from Jones’ flickr site, is untitled)

I tried some story cartoons about a kid in my class I disliked that always ended up with him dying. I would put them in his locker. He would draw some about me as retaliation. I was a complete moron. His were really good.

RF
Let’s get some technical details: What do you paint with.. I’m guessing acrylics is that right? Your colors are so intense tho I’m wondering if it’s gouache or something. Do you paint on canvas or on wood panel? And how big do you typically work. I know I saw a photo with a painting on the floor leaning against a wall. That was big but was that typical?

PJ I do paint with acrylics, and I paint pretty large. Most of my paintings are at least 4’X4’ and some are 6 or 7 feet long or tall. I have a few even larger. I have done some temporary wall murals-one for the Greater Denton Arts Council, one for a jazz festival. I did a backdrop for a jazz festival we had at Jarvis Last year that was about 8’x16’. As far as my normal paintings, some are done on canvas and some on wood or masonite. I use a lot of acrylic house paint I buy at the hardware store that they mixed for someone and they didn’t like. I can get an entire gallon for less than a tiny tube of Liqitex and I can get some weird colors that I normally wouldn‘t think up.

(image is “Girl”)

RF Some of the abstract works remind me a little of Philip Guston — just the shapes and colors although the space you suggest is not a landscape so much as a woven patterned rug or a puzzle. What artists do you like? Living or dead.

PJ Well, thank you. I do like Philip Guston’s work and have been told that before. I really wasn’t too familiar with his work until I saw a show last year at the Fort Worth Modern. I would probably say my biggest influences, or at least the artists who inspire me the most would be Jim Pace and Derrick White. Jim Pace was my professor at UT Tyler and does fabulous work. It is hard to get out of there without seeing his hand on your own work. I went to UT Tyler because I had seen his work at a show at UNT and wanted to meet him. I am not a stalker.

(image is one of the abstract works and below, called “Dead Guy” is a work that looks Mexican day of the Dead influenced))

Derrick is a guy that I have been friends with since forth grade. We grew up together in a Dallas suburb, drew together and decided to major in art at the same time. We took an Art appreciation class at junior college under Randy Brodnax and we both wanted to become him. Derrick teaches art at Tyler Junior College now and lives about a mile away from me. His process has really influenced me. I used to me more of a planner. I would have everything worked out before I ever started painting. Derrick’s spontaneity and improvisational approach has inspired much of my abstract work. We work together frequently.

I also enjoy stuff by Gary Baseman, Rick Catlow, Jeff Soto, David Bates, Jim Nutt, Terry Winters and the face jugs of Carl Block.

RF Tell me about dogs. Do you own one? Grow up with one? They are such characters and they seem to be kind of gangsters up to no good. The “Convening Tree” painting (image below) is such an eerie work. What does “convening tree” mean?



PJ
I did grow up with dogs but I do not own one now. My last dog was probably my favorite. Her name was Audry and she was a Chocolate lab. I first got her when I lived out in the woods on some acreage. The woods in East Texas are pretty, but at night they can get a little scary. She had a big black friend and they would run off together every night into the woods. I always wondered what they did out there in the dark. That is where that painting came from. I thought they might have some secret meeting place. Perhaps they performed some arcane dog rituals. She would come home dragging a horse leg, or with a fresh bullet wound or a snake bite. She lived to be about 14. I took her back to the woods to live with my Dad a couple of years ago while we were moving and she took off one night and never came back. Kind of Creepy!

RFYour portraits are very edgy and intense. a lot of them seem to be you I think. They’re also a little like religious icons. Does religion play any part in them? Are you reacting against it maybe? I love them all but I am most intrigued by the one of the chef with two black birds on his fingers. Can you tell me a little about that one?

PJ Actually, none of my portraits are me. I am not interesting looking enough to appear in a painting. ( Unless, of course, you find devastatingly handsome interesting).

I am influenced by religious icons- by laminas or retablos, by candles with saints on them at the grocery store, by fundamentalist religious tracs, by doomsday literature, by religious folk art… I like the care people use when painting a devotional object. I like the ritualistic refining process, the polish and contemplation put into them, especially if they are out of proportion or perverted in some way. And yet they still spent all this time on the refinement and devotion, when the whole underlying structure is flawed.

As for my own views on religion… I grew up in a strict religious household where I felt that I was always in jeopardy of accidentally doing something that would land me in Hell.


My senile great, great aunt lived with us and every time my parents left, she would come out of her cave with a Bible and a flyswatter (the kind made with metal screen) and inform my brothers and I, that we were going to Hell. We would cry and then she would slap us a few times with the flyswatter and go back to her room to watch professional basketball. As an adult realized that perhaps, I am not quite as hell-bound as I grew up believing. I now feel more grace.

“The Chef” was a painting I originally did because I thought it would look nice in my kitchen. I didn’t realize that most people don’t find crow very appetizing.

RF I love your colors. Is there a Mexican influence, or folk art influence?

I love Mexican Culture, food, style, etc.. Growing up in South Dallas, you can‘t really help being influenced . I love the culture and the colors. Mexican colors Rock!

PJ I have arranged to install my mandala work in a taqueria I frequent way too often.

I also really like folk art. I like the immediacy and truth and the distortion and the compulsion.

RF
Can I get some information on you? Like how old are you? You said you teach art at Jarvis Christian College…what in particular do you teach? painting, design, drawing…all of that? Is there an art major at the college? and are the students making work that’s like yours (I imagine not). Not yet. What’s your relationship to religion? Were you raised in a religious household?

PJ Well, I’m 38. I’m married. I have a 7 year old son and a month old daughter. Jarvis Christian is an HBCU in Hawkins Texas. It’s about 30 minutes from Tyler, and they offer art as a minor. I am the only art teacher (Assistant professor), and this is my third year to teach painting, drawing, design, art appreciation, art for elementary school teachers and art history. I enjoy the job. I like the students and the faculty and I have noticed a lot of progress in the student’s work and enthusiasm towards art.

RF
You told me in an email that you’re working on a “series of radially balanced paintings I call A.D.D. mandalas, because of my limited attention span and zero patience.” Can you tell me about them a little?

PJ My new work is a series of mandala type images. I have been fascinated by the sand mandalas made by Tibetan monks. I appreciate all of the time, energy, precision, spirituality and ceremony that goes into them. In doing my own mandalas, I have really been made aware or my own impatience, lack of attention, sloth, shallowness and lack of any refinement or skill. It’s been a great uplifting experience!

RF Can you tell me about your process a little. Do you sketch first in a sketchbook and then go to the painting or do you go straight to work on a painting without doing a sketch? How long does it take for you to complete a painting? in terms of hours or days (or weeks or months)

PJ In my figurative work, I used to me more of a planner. I would have everything worked out before I ever started painting. It got kind of boring. I now am much more spontaneous and reactionary. My abstract works are almost like a bunch of performances, that have been revised and edited down until I feel they are finished. I now look at painting like jazz. I love improvisation and rhythm. I still will sketch before some works, but I am more open to surprise.

Some of my paintings have been done in a period of a few hours and some have taken weeks to evolve. There is no magic formula.

RF There are 40 images in your art set on flickr. What time period do they date from?

PJ The pics on flickr are from the mid-nineties to the present. Sort of a greatest hits collection with some of the really good songs missing.

RF On your website paulyworld you’ve got a short story. Is it yours? And i love all the links, especially the scribbler. Where did you find it?

PJ The story is mine, and it’s true. My friends and I have used personal message boards to communicate for years. Feel free to contribute! A lot of my writing came from weird posts I would make on those. That is where I discovered that I really enjoyed writing humor. One Christmas, a friend had all of the posts bound in a book. It’s still in my bathroom.

I found the Scribbler while looking for art on the web.

RF Anything else you’d like to mention that I didn’t touch on?

PJ I really thank you for this opportunity. I hope that you can use some of this stuff. Sometimes I go a little overboard. It was really fun answering the questions. I had never thought about some of the questions before.

(bottom image is a scribbler re-interpretation of a drawing I made earlier today.)

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