Studio Visit with Angie Jones
Before entering Angie Jones studio, we had had a few brief conversations, and text communications and I could tell I was going to enjoy our studio visit. Once I arrived at her studio, I was met with a warm welcome and the immediate presence of the loveliest shade of pink. Her studio, work, and living space all formed interconnecting relations to her style, technique, and skill. On top of her work cart there are thick scrapings of discarded paint that form waves of colors on a glass sheet and cups of brushes stuffed to the brim are stacked next to one another. On the shelves below are containers of varnish and stacks of half open tubes of paint that await their next use. Her finished works hang on the wall just behind her workspace, while her works in progress are mounted on easels next to a few computer screens of her digital sketches. Which is right where Jones’s past and present collide. For over 20 years Jones had worked in digital animation creating works for some of the tops animation company’s like Sony and Pixar. Now Jones has taken a step back from the hustle and bustles of the business side of creation in order to find her own voice as a fine artist. With her first solo show, at Prohibition Gallery, just a week away I was able to sit down with the artist in order to shine a brighter light on her current series of works "Participating Perceptions". In these works she takes the defining qualities of digital rendering and turns polygonal shapes into mesmerizing portraits of friends and icons.
When did you start working with animation? In 1994 I graduated from the Atlanta College of Art, which is now (S.C.A.D) Savannah College of Art and Design, with a degree in Electronic Arts. I worked around Atlanta for a bit making 3D spinning logos for studios like Coca-Cola, CNN, Turner, and other production houses. A year later, I decided to move to California to find more creative work. My best friend from high school lived in San Diego, so I was considering that to be my next stop. I was a freelance artist in Atlanta at the time and stone broke trying to make it. I planned a vacation for a week to see my friend and hope for the best that freelancing would pick up when I got back. I spent my last 300$ on that airfare. To make the most of the trip, I arranged a few interviews in L.A. for animation jobs.
The first interview I went to was actually at a small game studio in San Diego my friend had suggested I try. Before I could get to the other interviews in L.A., the SD game studio asked for a second interview and they hired me. Two weeks later, I was on an airplane and all my stuff was on a truck headed to California. I loved my time in San Diego and it was a great introduction to California for a southern girl like myself. In 1998, I moved to San Luis Obispo, CA and worked for a game company called Oddworld Inhabitants for almost three years. Finally, in late 2000, I moved to L.A. to work at Sony Pictures Imageworks, on Stuart Little. After that production wrapped, I freelanced as an animator on movies like Pan’s Labyrinth, Scooby Doo, Xmen, Smurfs… until 2012. I am now an Assistant Professor in the Division of Animation and Digital Arts at USC.
What inspired you to take a step away from your design career and set you on the path of an artist’s journey? Initially, it was all about just having something for myself. A time where I wasn’t working towards someone else’s vision. With painting I could work on creativity of my own and I was led by the desire to not be clicking on a mouse anymore to make something tangible with my hands. I wanted to come back to the beginning where I started when I was in art school. I wanted to work more traditionally and so I found Cheryl Kline, a teacher in Culver City at the Kline Academy. She taught a really hardcore masters approach to painting, called indirect painting. Most contemporary artists paint directly, they don’t do the glazing and the layers and the detail that I’m creating, where you have to let things dry before working it again. I learned a lot from her about technique and got a break from sitting in the dark looking at a screen as an animator. I continued this new journey and became serious when I entered the MFA Painting program at LCAD.
How does your digital background influence your current style of painting? The polygonal, faceted surface that I create is something that I’ve experienced working in CG animation. When you generate a 3D model on a computer, it has this wire frame structure (like chicken wire for a coop, or a chain link fence). The wireframe builds a three dimensional image. This is something I have looked at working in 3D software for twenty years now. So, I decided one day working in the studio to emulate the polygonal surface in a portrait.
I believe to create good art the content, the execution, and the technique all have to inform each other. If you are all technique it’s boring and if you are all concept the audience needs a three page thesis to understand it. So when it comes to content, I am concerned with what technology is doing to our brains and the bombardment of technological devices. I see human interaction as a fractured vision. An assault of digital screens, texts and interaction once removed by technology. Photography has become a social habit undervalued by smartphones and compact digital cameras. In this context, I am bringing the specific and idiosyncratic nature of humanity back as an alternative to the mundane photos of food, selfies, pets and nail polish.
I dovetail the approach, content and execution using old techniques to create something new based on technology. I employ the 17th century masters technique of glazing paint on a surface and still produce an abstracted image and more contemporary work. Through color and application, the surface references an 8-bit counter culture and nostalgic sensibility of the 1980’s.
What are you trying to communicate with your art? With the portraits I am concerned with capturing the spirit of someone’s persona. Which, I believe most portraiture artists are trying to accomplish. However, I am doing it in the most economical way that I can by describing the planes of the face with triangles. I intend to capture the simplest gesture that expresses the attitude and that intangible essence that you can’t quite put your finger on about a person. The strength that each person possesses is something that I admire and hope to get across in the portraits. Introduction of animal heads is something new I am exploring in place of the human face to unite the primal inner beast to the sophistication of human body language.
What types of process start?
I usually take my own photos or find an image for the more iconic portraits of famous people, and open it up in Photoshop, and start working on the composite drawing. Initially, I draw triangles to represent the planes of the face. Next, I choose one color out of millions of different possibilities, and fill the space with that single hue. Many times, I change the color just a little in the composite and sometimes change it again when I paint. I continue tweaking the colors here, there and peaking the hues and saturation to boost intensity as the colors are juxtaposed against one another. I got the term “peak-shift” from one of my professors, Peter Zokosky, in my graduate studies at LCAD. It’s the perfect description of the shifts in color I use. Once finished with the comp, I project the image on the canvas and start my layers and glazing of the surface with paint.
What does “being an artist” mean to you?
Well, what is the definition of an artist? I believe an artist is someone who can only communicate their inner voice through his or her art. No matter what visual language, the ideas can only be communicated through the medium used. This is true no matter if it is dance, sculpture or other forms of creative expression.
I believe the drive to create in the first place for an artist is to quiet the chatter in your brain. All of the madness that goes on in your brain everyday slows to a full stop when you go into that zone. Some people jump out of airplanes, some people do yoga. Everyone’s trying to quiet the chatter in their mind and find that peaceful existence of who you are.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Currently, I have a larger response from younger people and the generation closer to my own age. My website and social networking traffic reveals the 18-24 and the 35-44 age groups have the highest views. This doesn’t surprise me, because I believe that interests in art are cyclical. When I look at my work I can see an 80’s influence which hipsters have picked up on and people my age are nostalgic for. If I showed you pictures of my friends and me when we were younger you would think that we were hipsters in today’s culture. So, it makes sense that I am able to bring that aesthetic around once again. What was once new in the 80’s is now classic, and now new again.
How has your practice changed over time? Obviously, technique, materials and style have changed and broadened as I have experienced new artists, both on my own and through mentors, friends, and going to galleries and viewing new art. Taste changes as you learn more about art. With each style of painting I use a variety of brushes. I use angle brushes for the faceted work. I think my process with drawing the triangles on top is very similar to how you figure out an animated shot in features. As an animator, conveying the core personality of the character is the most important part of the job. Figuring out depth, staging and composition is the same when working on a shot for film. Every framed still in an animated feature counts and is created from nothing.
I’m not the same artist working through the same ideas I was just a few years ago. For the past couple years, concept has taken a backseat in favor of technique. My work has been an exploration of representing the form in the simplest way geometrically, while still capturing the soul of the sitter. Future work will push into more complex space and narratives.
What do you want people to walk away with after viewing your work?
Overall, I hope that the work evokes some kind of emotive response and if they get more of a story out of it than intended I love that. “Participating Perception” is what is important. Through the planes of color the viewer’s perception is created in the same way as in impressionist works. The closer you are to these works, the more abstract they become. The further away, the image reorganizes. The viewer must be present to create the work.
Your having your first solo show “Participating Perception” @ Prohibition Gallery, how does it feel to take over a gallery? It’s incredibly exciting and scary, and terrifying all together. I have very high expectations and high hopes for myself and the work. I want it to speak to people and have people talk about the work. If nothing else, I hope you feel like you know the people in the portraits, even if you don’t personally.
If you could collaborate on an artistic project with any artist (dead or alive), who would it be? I think it would be fun to do something with Wes Anderson or Spike Jonze. I worked with Spike Jonze before as an animator on the short film “I’m Here.” I would want to work with them on a project that is geared more towards an installation and fine art, though. I also would love to work with artists like Julie Cockburn and Quayola.