Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Art Space Talk: Dennis Jones

Originally from Detroit, Dennis Jones now resides in Plymouth, Michigan. He is a licensed practicing architect, an educator and artist. He completed his formal education as an architect from the University of Detroit in 1983. He completed his Master of Fine Arts, in Painting, from Wayne State University in 1990. Since, he has exhibited his work extensively in the Detroit area and beyond. Jones has been an adjunct professor of color theory, 2d and 3D design concepts at The College for Creative Studies since 2002. He has also taught architectural design and drawing at The University of Detroit, Wayne State University and Macomb County Community College.

Wake me when its time to go, Installation view

Brian Sherwin: Dennis, can you tell us about your academic training in art? I understand that you studied at the University of Detroit and Wayne State University. Did you have any influential instructors? Can you recall any specific experience during those years that have inspired you to present day?

Dennis Jones: My undergraduate degree is in architecture from the University of Detroit and I continue to practice. My architectural training has influenced my art through an understanding of history, material, construction, scale, space, form and conceptualization. Architecture is the mother of all art forms.

I completed my MFA in Painting from Wayne State University. My influential instruction is minimal but I've had influential personalities and two graduate school people worth mentioning are Dick Wray and Peter Williams.

BS: I understand that you are an instructor as well. Where do you teach? What is your educational philosophy?

DJ: I teach part-time at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. I would like to find a full time position outside of Michigan and continue to look. I currently teach 2D and 3D design, but I've taught architectural design and drawing at the University of Detroit, Wayne State and Macomb Community College. I try to cultivate an atmosphere where creative awareness, inquiry, exploration, discovery and execution can develop and grow.

BS: Dennis, you utilize text within the context of your work. As you know, words can be very powerful-- they can send a nation to war and inspire the masses to behave or act out in certain ways. What interests you in using words directly as a form of expression?

DJ: Images and words are interchangeable. The use of text in my work is relatively new for me, which has developed in the past two years. I had been working with images for sometime and I started to incorporate text along with images which became redundant and then I abandoned a specific image altogether. If a picture is worth a thousand words, with this new work I wonder how many (mental) pictures can be drawn from a single word? I'm also interested in the interaction between the formal elements of painting, its physical surface and abstract text.
BS: Can you tell us about your artistic practice in general? Give us some insight into these works... perhaps you could select a piece and tell us about it.

DJ: Influences come from many sources – the trick is in finding how they're interrelated or not and then piecing them together. These paintings are about skepticism, propaganda, delusions, absurdity and discontent – all accumulating.

I'd rather not discuss any one particular painting but I could give some thoughts on how to approach this work; look at the color and scale, look at the text, look at the overall shape and its construction, look at the surface, then move onto the next one and then come back, all the while asking yourself what does it say or not say. I think these paintings take time and must be seen in reality to fully appreciate their nuance.
BS: Are you more likely to be hit with an idea while going about your daily activities? Or is the 'light bulb' more likely to flash while you are in your studio?

DJ: I carry a small notebook around with me for errant thoughts and ideas. Ideas come during daily activities, which includes working at my studio. We're bombarded with words and images through newspapers, magazines, television and the internet; look around there's plenty of material for paintings out there.

BS: Can you tell us about some of your influences? Have any specific artists or art movements inspired you?

DJ: This work has been influenced by abstract expressionists such as Pollock and DeKooning; early pop artists such as Johns and Rauschenberg whom questioned all the flinging paint; Robert Indiana, Ed Ruscha, Bruce Naumann, Richard Tuttle, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Richard Prince to name a few. Thomas Kinkade, the so-called "painter of light", has also influenced me. Other influences include the authors, Daniel Dennet, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens who have examined belief in their writing.

Toyland, installation view at Zeitgeist Gallery

BS: Dennis, your Toyland installation was very successful for you. Can you tell us about that installation and the motives behind why you created it?

DJ: Toyland took about two years to complete and it was shown in parts until a show at the Zeitgeist Gallery, which led to a larger version at Gallery project in Ann Arbor where the installation grew to include about eighty pieces and occupy an 1100 square foot space, which then led to inclusion in the Windsor Biennial.

Toyland expresses a sense of play, wonder, delight and discovery. These thoughts and emotions are directly expressed with a simplified color palette and the varied presence of a child-like everyman. The figures suggest an innocence and hopefulness of childhood—I think of them as my progeny—a metaphor for the creation and realization of ideas—and avatar for the artist as a perpetual child. I think of toyland as a kind of memorial to these sentiments.

With the realization the figures are also small toys to be manipulated, trophies to ambition and vanity, or puppets to be controlled, an undercurrent of irony surfaces as the installation comments on the formation of identity and a creative process that has become corrupted, where innocence and naiveté are doubtful possibilities.
BS: You are one of four artists participating in 'Dehuman', a traveling exhibition that opened in January 2006. My understanding is that the exhibit closes this year. Can you tell our readers about the exhibit?

DJ: Mark Lalibrete, the curator for Dehuman contacted me after he saw my work at the Tangent Gallery in 2002; it took four more years to put together an itinerary that included six venues across Canada. I'm showing with three Canadian artists, Ed Pien, Balint Zsacko and Daniel Erban and each of us are showing expressive figurative drawings. Visit www.dehuman.com for images and itinerary.

BS: Will you be involved with any other exhibits in 2008?

DJ: I'm currently participating in a three-person show that included Chris Crowder and Tom Carey. Chris and Tom are showing figurative drawings and I've done an installation of text paintings.

I'm actively looking into museums and gallery representation outside of the Midwest. The Fundamental(ist) exhibition would make an excellent traveling show. There are twenty paintings that fit well in an 1800 square foot space; there are complete full color catalogs - it’s tight. All I need is the opportunity. I was recently in Los Angeles and my work will be included in a text show at Solway Jones. There has been some interest in New York too and I plan to visit there in early March.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

DJ: The freedom of ideas sustains me as an artist and always think before you believe.
You can learn more about Dennis Jones by visiting his www.myartspace.com Premium profile-- www.myartspace.com/dennisjones. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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