The illusory serenade of the imagination playing before your eyes is the work of Erik Jones. The portraits are dazzling celebrations exhibited with elegant bouquets of color dressing the figures within. The body of work can be defined as something like a dream you don’t want to lose upon waking.
But Erik Jones tells me that I’m not dreaming. These are his creations and they exist here in front of you, plucked from his very own creative fathoms, placed on canvases and paper with skill and thoughtful revery. They exist as much as you or I exist and I must thank Erik for that.
Erik, who is a native Floridian but now lives in New York City, explains his portraits as conceptual fashion design and that the shapes that dress the subjects are, in fact, living to suit the individual’s every need while maintaining their own beauty for themselves. A futuristic view that one can recognize while looking through Jones’s work.
To learn more about Jones I asked about his process, thoughts, youth, and other miscellaneous trivia over a period of two months:
When and where were you born?
I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida in October 1982. Sunshine, bikinis and retirees, yup.
How long were you in St. Petersburg?
I was in St. Petersburg for about 21 years, give or take. Then moved to Sarasota Florida where I studied illustration at Ringling College of Art and Design. I Graduated from Ringling in ‘07 and moved to New York shortly after.
My earlier work was heavily influenced by pinup painters such as George Petty, Alberto Vargas, Gil Elvgren and other 1960’s illustrators who focused more on the female form such as Coby Whitmore and Robert McGinnis.
Why the move to New York City?
It was a spur of the moment kind of thing. I moved with $81 in my pocket, a garbage bag full of clothes and a computer. I’ve never looked back. It was one of those things where I felt like I just had to do it. I wasn’t getting any younger and all my dreams and aspirations were based out of New York, primarily gallery work.
I was able to move because of the jobs I was getting in comics. Comics have never been a passion of mine, actually not even a hobby. However, the bright colors and strong line quality in my older work lent itself to comics and they took me in with open arms. I made a living by doing cover work and showing at comic conventions all around the United States. Fun for a while but it was tiresome doing something I didn’t have my heart into completely.
When was the first time you really knew you were an artist?
Well, the first time I knew I could draw was around the age of 6 or 7. I vividly remember eating a bag of Cheetos, looking at the cheetah on the package and thinking, “I can draw that.” I sat down with a #2 pencil, some loose leaf newsprint paper and 4 hours later, after meticulous shading and erasing, emerged a well defined Chester Cheeto. My mom found the drawing and proclaimed me as the next Pablo Picasso. It was her enthusiasms which made me realize I had some sort of talent.
That’s really cool that you can remember that, where did you go from there? Were you aware of artists and what they did? Did you know that’s what you wanted to do from then on?
Well, I knew that I wanted to be some sort of artist. I went through the rest of my childhood copying cartoon stills, mostly from Disney or Nickelodeon. Shows like Ren and Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Rugrats were among my favorites. I thought I wanted to be an animator or do something in animation, storyboards, character design, anything really. When I started Ringling I quickly realized that I had more of a passion for illustration and figure painting.
Ren and Stimpy… I’m not even sure I comprehend the influence that show has had on my life. Or all the Nickelodeon shows. Does television or film influence you still? Do the ideas of being an animator ever reappear?
Of course film influences me, I’m not sure how to articulate an exact reference but yeah, stimulating visuals never go unnoticed creatively. And, no, the notions of being an animator died a very long time ago and I’ve never thought twice about it. I love what I’m doing now. What more could you ask for!? Besides less debt, ha.
I’d like to hear a bit more about your time at Ringling. What were the highlights of it? How do you feel about art school in general?
Ringling was an amazing experience. I would absolutely not be where I am right now, artistically, if it weren’t for Ringling. Submerging yourself in non-stop art morning to night, is the best thing you can do for artistic growth.
It was great surrounding yourself with like minded people, learning from one another and having the benefit of being taught by working professionals. The teachers were incredibly knowledgeable and down to earth, it was a very close and comfortable school. I miss it alot actually.
The Dipped Queen
My beef with art school, in general, is the debt so many of us get in afterwards. My student loans are astronomical, along with most of my friends. We didn’t have the means to pay for school upfront. It has become an extreme hindrance in my artistic pursuit to become better than I am.
I’m not advocating the demise of art school, I’m saying students should know the reality of the job market and the debt that follows art school. It’s not something you should jump into if you don’t have the means to or, in some way, have assistance financially.
If you were to ask me if I’d do it all over again? I’d have to think about it. I mean, I would but I would do it differently. I think. I guess the point is if you’re thinking about going into art school know that the job market is awful, there are few and far between decent paying art jobs and you’ll be working your ass off to make ends meet. Usually as a server or bartender. However, you’ll have the opportunity to get really good at art. Ha, that may sound pretty negative but I feel it’s a reality. Those of you who went to art school for illustration know what I’m talking about. Or maybe I’m a curmudgeon that’s far too opinionated.
The process images you post on Instagram show a very structured way of doing things, or at least it seems that way. Could you talk a bit about your process from start to finish?
There are several different thought processes that are happening in any given piece. But for this question I’ll just go into the physical process:
My whole process starts with a photo shoot or a collection of various photos to get inspired from. I’ll spend about a day or 2 editing, finding positions, faces, hands, etc. that I’ll end up frankensteining together to create the perfect reference. Once I have a figure reference, I start the sketching/conceptual process. Which starts with a loose thumbnail on paper then refined digitally. I’ll build shapes on top of the figure, methodically picking and choosing forms with color. I build on top of the figure as if they were wearing these shapes. I’ll also create patters with the shapes to move your eye around in a structured way. Despite all the clutter and chaos in these newer works, there is something soothing and comfortable in each piece, at least I feel there is. I believe it’s the patterns that you’re subconsciously finding that keep it from being completely chaotic and overwhelming to look at.
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Anyway, when I finally have a defined digital layout, I project the image to paper and trace it out. I usually start everything with a base coat of watercolor or ink, very transparently. After the paper has had time to dry completely, I’ll use Prismacolor pencils to render the skin. On top of the pencil I’ll use water-soluble wax pastels, blending with my fingers and a blending stump, each revealing unique results. On top of the water-soluble wax pastels I’ll use water-soluble oils which I primarily use for tinting shadows and highlights. I’ll then go back on top of the water-soluble oils with pencil or pastels to define any details lost in the oil stage. The rest of the painting is done with acrylics (colored shapes, line, backgrounds, blotches, drips, etc.). The order of this method can change from piece to piece.
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Click to enlarge
Where did the bursts of color originate from? What’s their significance? In some pieces you have very defined lines or patterns surrounding your subjects. What are their meanings?
I’ve been on this kick for the last few years of really having fun and experimenting with non-representational forms. I guess it was around 2009-ish. It began with a piece called “Shapes.” I have always loved graphic arts and ridiculous colors so this seems to be a natural progression. “Shapes” was the first piece where I felt like I really put myself out there, as in I had a specific market that liked my work and this was definitely a direction that stood out and really captured what I wanted to create. I remember friends referring to this painting as a “clown painting.” Obviously having an aversion to it. Never-the-less this piece was a milestone for me.
The rest of my work has been a constant experiment with space, form, and the human figure. Until 2013 I was kind of all over the place aesthetically, with good reason. I wanted to find my voice. And in these last few years I’ve created some of the best work I have ever done. IM 0 7, Marksman, Patriot, Anne Bolyn - these pieces paved the way for my current work.
In late 2012 I was asked to create a body of work for a show here in New York. I took it as my chance to focus my creative explorations to one specific “style.” It was in the middle of creating this new body of work that I found an aesthetic I wanted to cultivate. The piece that made it all click was Armor. An extremely large piece this painting was extremely challenging and yet so much fun to do. The arrangement of the forms cladding the figure were originally meant just as graphic, nonrepresentational elements with no distinct purpose other than to simply heighten the beauty of the figure. The forms have now evolved to something that could resemble conceptual fashion design. Which is where I’d like to take these concepts/paintings. I want to turn these forms into wearable, I say that loosely, art. More on that soon!
If you put all your work together would the people be related? As in would their lives mingle with one another or do they all have separate stories?
Very interesting question as the answer is constantly evolving.
I have been perceiving these figures as, oh, for a lack of better words, “Royalty.” The figures are caught in a blip of time. The viewer is capturing a random moment where the forms are consuming the figure. Not in an aggressive or obtrusive way but more like wearing clothes that are alive. Cloths that revere you, they breathe with you and adapt to your movements. They protect you while decorating your skin. I imagine them to be very narcissistic, loving themselves tremendously while consecrating their existence to the wearer. Galena was the painting where this concept first interned my imaginative process.
When I’m in the beginning stages of designing these forms I try to use them to glorify the figure. However the figure should not maintain importance. It’s a harmonious balance where each exists for one another, forms and figure. Now with all that being said, I don’t think of the forms as being little animals. Maybe closest to a plant, a really awesome plant! Ha!
What’s some of your concerns about art today?
Generally speaking I have no notable concerns. In fact I’m extremely excited about art today and what the future of art may bring. Not sure how to expound on that statement. There is so much art I enjoy today. Honestly, I feel like contemporary art has hit a new high and I feel so lucky to be seeing it.
What’s your view on the effect of Tumblr and other social networks devoted to creativity? Or social network in general?
Aw man, this is an extensive answer… Let me just get the negative part out and over with first. I tend to get annoyed with the lack of actual substance these creative social networks have: Post a picture of yourself in underwear showing off your tattoos in front of your art. BOOM! Artist! “I want to see more!” Follow! Follow! Follow! An artist is born… The internet has made it much easier to forget about the art and focus more on the personality or at least the personality the user is trying to portray.
On the other hand and more importantly I love the accessibility that the internet and social networks have created for artists. Anyone can now upload their body of work and have said work be seen by millions of people. I mean lets face it, it’s the best thing to ever have happen to visual arts as far as getting your work out to viewers.
Sites like Tumblr, Deviantart, and Instagram have absolutely made my career possible. Not to mention the excitement an artist gets when he or she is featured on popular blogs such as Supersonic Electronic. These are fantastic ways for artist to gain momentum in their career while also getting a perspective of what else is going on in the creative world.
My hat is off to you my friend.
What things off the Internet do you find to be the best purveyors of art or inspiration?
It’s so much more rewarding to find an artist’s entire collection in a book rather than finding one to five pieces online. It also supports the artist when you buy books, win-win. More recently I’ve been gravitating towards non-representational space and form painters as well as conceptual fashion designers. That’s probably apparent in my new work.
What’s your favorite thing to listen to while you work?
Man, I just found The National. Such an amazing band. I’m kinda wearing that out, like everyday, for hours. But typically I start my day out with NPR (WNPR, New York) till around 2ish then listen to Jazz and Classical. My favorite thing to listen to while I’m painting is Tim Hecker. It’s like ambient soothing noise tracks. I can’t get enough of it.
What’s the best place to eat in New York City?
SO. MANY. GOOD. PLACES. My favorite places change, I’m not really a creature of habit. My two favorite places at the moment are both in Brooklyn. Mesa Coyoacan and Walter Foods (Google them if you’re in Brooklyn). Both have an amazing menu, great drinks and a really nice environment. Both are also a bit pricey so they are kind of payday restaurants but well worth it.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Shit, no! I don’t know what I believe in but it sure as hell isn’t ghosts. Though, I kinda wish they were real. Things would be a lot more interesting around here.
Erik Jones: Tumblr | Website