Catholic Artist of the Month: Timothy Jones and the Art of Gratitude

Catholic Artist of the Month: Timothy Jones and the Art of Gratitude May 23, 2014

Today begins a new series: Catholic Artist of the Month.  Rather than constantly kvetching about mediocre, sentimental art by Christians, I’ll be featuring artists who are doing it right.

I am delighted to begin with Timothy Jones, an award-winning American realist whose photorealistic oil painting “Tempus Fugit” was just named a finalist in the BoldBrush Painting Competition.  He graciously spent an hour talking to me while he was still in the throes of final exams at Chesterton Academy, the private Catholic high school in Minneapolis where he teaches art. 

My questions are in italics. All the paintings featured, and more of Jones’ work, can be found at his online studio and at Fine Art America, where many pieces are for sale.

*****

So, what’s your favorite color?

For the longest time it was blue, but recently I realized it had changed, and now I prefer green — a natural, mossy green. I don’t know what that says about me. I grew up in Alaska, which is very cold, blue, and kind of stark, beautiful in romantic landscape way. But moving to Arkansas as a teenager,  there was just a wall of green. I didn’t really appreciate that at first. It took a while to settle into that. And it was just steaming hot.

How long does it take you to finish a painting?

I don’t keep close track of the hours. It takes from a few days to a week, depending on how thing go and how much time I have.

A lot of it is just kind of staring at it. You kind of collect yourself, let things suggest themselves, or just walk away from it for a while, then come back and see what you have.

Do you work on more than one painting at a time?

I should! It would be a good system, because I do work in layers. But I focus on one painting at a time.

Persimmons

It would be great for my production, to do more than one at a time. Collectors like to see consistency. They like to group things thematically. But I always feel like I’m just learning to paint, because I’m trying out different things.

What’s something new you’ve tried recently?

The last couple of paintings have been done in a style that’s been around for a few decades, called hyperrealism.  I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I wanted to try. There are certain aspects of it that appeal to me — strong shadows; detailed, meticulous work.

Tempus Fugit 

In a lot of circles, what’s popular now is impressionism. You do more with color, you appeal to the emotions, use expressive brushwork. I love that.

Water Lilies at Moonrise

 

Winter Mist

 

Hyperrealism — is that the raspberries

Raspberries

and the chokeberries?

 

Those take more of a macro view, with a more contemporary composition I was trying out. The response has been terrific.

But it seems like a classic composition is what you keep coming back to — the straight-on view, a glass, a piece of bread, a piece of fruit . . .

 

Blue Cheese

 

Blue Vase with Plums

 

I feel like I’ve been learning to paint all this time. By using this traditional structure, I can work with and can try things inside that, and feel like I have some confidence and change one thing.  For instance, I was in the habit of using a dark background,

 

 

and it was a little leap to use a lighter background.

 

Good Company

 

Beer has this beautiful color, but you can’t see it well with a dark background.  I paint a lot of beer!

 

Mug of Beer

 

It’s been good to work out some how I deal with light, things like these last couple I’ve done, like some eggshells.

 

Nascent

 

Another was “Tempus Fugit,” [see above] which is made up of a lot of things that remind me of the passage of time. I didn’t set that up intentionally; there was some stuff in a box, and I decided to paint it, and it turned out they were all themed.

One painting that my sons loved was the hamburger. You’ve done a few hamburgers.

 

Suzy Q Double Cheeseburger

 

I was happy with it. It ended up in a show. Everyone thought it was great, but then it stayed around forever. Nobody bought it.

Is there a struggle between wanting to paint something and having to make a commercial decision?

I did some orange paintings that sold while they were still wet.

 

Orange Peeled

 

 

Oranges

 

The gallery guy said, “Go home and paint about twelve more oranges.” But this weird little thing in my brain says, “I can’t paint an orange now, because it’s been requested! I’m switching now to submarines!

But I have a genuine interest in everything I paint. You spend a lot of time lying in bed thinking about what you want to paint next. I haven’t always had a really clear idea of what direction I want to go in, but I have had a clear idea of what I don’t or shouldn’t want to do.

Like what?

There’s the temptation of doing something that’s going to sell well: kitschy, sentimental stuff, might have worked out.  My family might have wanted me to do some of that!  But I always really had to paint things that I was interested in. I find beer really beautiful. A lot of the setups are trying to create an atmosphere of fellowship or camaraderie.

 

Pewter Stein and Pipe

 

Speaking of an atmosphere of fellowship, you teach classical art in a private high school, Chesterton Academy. How did that come about?

I went to a Chesterton conference with a painting and a drawing of Chesterton,

 

Astonished at the World

 

and the head of the Chesterton Society came up and said, “We’ve started a school.  Would you like to move to Minnesota?”  Now I’m finishing my second year there.  If there’s one thing that could drag me away from painting, it’s that.

The school is in its fifth year. They started with eight or nine students, and now they have 115. The school has this character of a little, crazy school – a private, Catholic classical high school – and the spirit of Chesterton plays a big part in that. It’s a joyous, thankful approach to Catholicism, a very human Catholicism.  We have the greatest conversations in the faculty lounge. The kids all take drama, and they all take four years of art – studio art, and art history.  It’s kind of a luxury for me to delve into those books again.

A lot of the kids are surprised to learn that there are steps to making a work of art. They think you just come out of the womb with this talent, that you pick up a pencil and it’s magic. There is an element of that, but there are also a whole lot of ways to systematically help yourself. The kids open up in a way that is gratifying, and fun, to see. They surprise themselves.

After I teach them, they can go on and paint like Picasso if they want to. I try to keep things positive and not bash that kind of art. But I want them to be aware of all this beautiful stuff.

Last year, the juniors and seniors took a field trip to Rome. (I couldn’t afford to go; moving had done such wonderful things to my budget!).  You don’t have to convince them that Caravaggio or St. Peter’s Basilica is great. It changes a person.  Compare that to the absurdity of some modern art movement . . . it’s not anything you really have to spell out.

And you have been through some spiritual changes yourself, as a convert to Catholicism?

It’s all Jimmy Akin’s doing. He and I were friends in college. In our thirties, my wife Martha and I lived close to him and his wife. It was a great time. He has one of the quickest minds I’ve ever seen.  I can’t keep up with him, but it was fun to try. Also, he’s just an honest person.  Wherever the logic takes him, he’ll go. He began to help me start learning to think. One thing led to another and here we are.

What sort of art have you been looking at recently?

I just saw a bunch of painting from ancient Rome, nature studies on their walls. Still life. They were just doing the same thing:  “Isn’t this great, we have these fish!” I think that’s part of Chesterton’s writings: this love and gratitude for the material world, a reaction against the puritan suspicion of the physical world, or the gnostic suspicion.

What do you mean, “gnostic suspicion?”

I see currents of gnosticism in modern art. Suspicious, antagonistic to dull reality, to life, to the rocks in the street. We don’t wanna paint things that are all around us, we have to transcend that! But for me, the transcendence comes through the experience of things. Explore this, talk about it . . . that’s what I love about art. That’s what art, especially original art, not reproductions, is: this tremendous dialogue. Someone painted this a thousand ago, and I’m reading his  mind. I like this idea of this dialogue, fellowship over a bird or a plant.

Your art strikes me as very Catholic, even the ones that aren’t explicitly religious, like “Immaculate Heart” is.

 

Immaculate Heart

 

I’m glad to hear that! I try to think sincerely what I should be painting. What can I do to move people toward the truth? I try to think of things I can show my own gratitude for. The essence of art is the artist saying,  “Look, I have something to show you. I saw this plant, I saw this bird!”

 

*****

Are you a Catholic artist, or do you know one who would be available for interview? Send me a tip at simchafisher[at]gmail[dot]com.

 

 


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  • Please please contact Matthew S. Good and interview him. I’d love to read his thoughts. http://www.matthewsgood.com/

    • simchafisher

      Thanks for the tip!

  • The Anti-Monitor

    Oooh, do you have any interest in including a comic book artist? I’d love it if you interviewed Billy Tucci, who did a gorgeous comic adaption of the Nativity a few years ago and is working on another one about the Beatitudes. He’s a professed Catholic! http://www.crusadefinearts.com/index.php

    • Also, Ben Hatke is a Catholic who writes/illustrates comic books, but also paints fine art. http://www.benhatke.com

      • The Anti-Monitor

        Yes, I met Ben at a book signing last week and got one of his “Zita the Space Girl” stories signed for my daughter. He seems very cool and would be a good pick for an interview as well.

    • Gene Luen Yang is another Catholic and comic book artist (I highly recommend “Prime Baby” and “American Born Chinese,” and I’m dying to read “Boxers and Saints”).

  • lovely

  • richard

    Your Catholic Artist of the Month series is a great idea. The talent is there ready to be seen and appreciated. At some point I may be able to suggest someone.

  • Naomi

    This is a brilliant series, and I look forward to future installations. It is so easy to think that all is lost when it comes to contemporary art. And I think I just had an epiphany with that last paragraph. Art makes so much more sense now.

  • Kate Cousino

    What a great interview! And beautiful art.

  • What a great idea for a series! I’m a fellow ranter about art being praised as religious when it’s just not good. My husband is a Catholic artist who’s just getting started in terms of competing with and selling his art (so, doing it professionally), but I’m sure he’d love to be interviewed when he has a few more works completed! He’s actually painting an image of Our Lady of Grace right now. (He has a few photos of other paintings on his blog: http://www.livepraypaint.blogspot.com/)

    A favorite Catholic artist of mine is Anthony VanArsdale: http://www.livepraypaint.blogspot.com/ Besides being an excellent illustrator, his fine art and religious art is gorgeous and award-winning.

  • OldWorldSwine

    Thanks for making the interview so much fun, Simcha. I’ll never wash this iPhone again!

    • simchafisher

      OH, that reminds me, I never got around to asking you about “old world Swine!”

      • OldWorldSwine

        Well… that’s the name of the blog I kept up for a few years. We lived in Arkansas at the time, and the big college team in Arkansas is the Razorbacks. A razorback is a species of wild hog, known in fancier circles as Old World Swine. I thought the name fit certain things about me, as well. I do feel a bit at loose ends in the modern world, and I’m sure some would find my opinions pig-headed and old fashioned.

  • Anna

    This is a great idea and a lovely kick-off! I love Jones’ “camaraderie” theme with all the food and beer. I haven’t ever spent a lot of time just looking at beer, but the works above are a great aid to remembering to *see*.
    Michael Montag is a bronze sculptor who might be a good artist for a future month. Here’s his website with one of my favorites, the bust of St. Ignatius:
    http://www.montagsculpture.com/saints.html

  • This was great! He is so talented!

  • CS

    I love Immaculate Heart because the face of Our Lady is so familiar….she could be my mother in real life; that is one of the most common places we understand burning, giving love!

  • Nan
  • Leah Kathryn Balster

    Mr. Jones is an amazing teacher. My class enjoyed his art classes so much that we elected to have an Art Elective for the last semester in senior year. I graduated from Chesterton Academy last year (2013) and wish I could take classes like his in college. One part of his classes that I particularly enjoyed is that he gave us the freedom to choose the type of art we wanted to study or replicate. He was very open to hearing how WE want to proceed in our efforts to replicate the masters but then he could and would swoop in to help if we are stuck on a color or a confusing shadow line. Mr. Jones, if you are reading this, I feel privileged to have studied under you. Thank you!

    • OldWorldSwine

      Thank *you*, Leah! That made my day. Maybe my whole month! God bless.

  • Love this series, and love your blog. I am the editor of a magazine in Canada called Kolbe Times: Faith, Arts & Justice (www.kolbetimes.com). We’re always looking for new Catholic artists to profile! A few issues ago we interviewed Brother Mickey O’Neill McGrath, OSFS, who makes wonderful, quite whimsical art – and he’s such a great guy. You’d enjoy interviewing him! He lives, works and paints in Camden, New Jersey, within the Sacred Heart parish.

  • Corky Brown

    I knew Tim back in elementary school. I remember his amazing attention to detail even at that early age. I had no doubt that he would excel in his field and he certainly has not disappointed. It is nice to see him recognized in such a manner.

  • Hey! I have a good friend who is also an amazing artist. Maybe you could interview her too. http://www.amifineart.com/public/index.html