“Pip is a big hit. I’m pretty sure 95% of visitors to the studio are really here to see him.” – Sarah Jones
Sarah and I graduated from high school together and so I’ve watched her success in her art and Jones Gallery with a sense of pride and esprit de corps. She was one of the first people I approached when brainstorming the idea for CreatedHere and she has been wonderfully encouraging from the beginning. In fact, she was the first artist to consent to be interviewed for this project! So, thank you Sarah!
When I lived in uptown Saint John for 5 years, surrounded by fog, industry and pollution, I must say art and beauty were not keywords going through my head. I think it’s easy to see the dirt and grit of the city and grumble. Sarah’s work has encouraged me to view my city differently, to appreciate the industry for what it is and the role it plays in our identity and economy. We may not always like it, but the tankers and the cranes and graffiti are a part of our landscape so let’s embrace them! And paint them! The fog you can still grumble about. It’s the weather after all.
Sarah Jones is a talented up-and-coming artist firmly based in the Saint John area. She draws her inspiration from the cityscapes, the harbour and, believe it or not, the industrial activity surrounding it. Her works range from finding the beautiful in big cargo ships and massive cranes, to abstract ideas of graffiti and city spaces. She sells her works herself, from her studio/gallery space and online. No prints, thank you, only originals. Her studio on Duke Street is 11 feet wide and houses not only her office, workspace and gallery showcase, but also a nearly 6 foot-long Newfoundland dog named Pip. Sarah confesses that it can get a bit tight. Pip often gets too close to fresh paint and visitors sometimes have to inch around large works that are still wet, but it is well worth the quaint-meets-urban feel of the space.
Sarah stumbled into becoming the owner of her own street-level art studio and gallery by what she calls “a happy accident”. She’d always loved painting, but never thought of being a full-time artist herself. After completing her master’s degree in art history, she opened Bean Books on Germain St, offering a curated selection of books and good coffee. She set up her painting supplies at the back of the shop and painted during down moments. It turned out that visitors were more interested in what she was painting than in the books or coffee. They asked about it, and even want to buy some of her pieces. Sarah decided it was time to embrace her true calling and opened Jones Gallery in 2010, a gallery/studio that would be open to the public. The idea of a walk-in studio is not very common, but Sarah says she has found that visitors respond to seeing the process behind the artwork.
Sarah Jones is building her reputation as a serious, homegrown artist with good ideas and the know-how to get it done. Watch out for Sarah, she’ll be a household name before long.
When people ask you what you do, what do you say?
I guess I self-describe as a visual artist. I try to keep it very basic.
Which mediums do you work with?
I do oil paint and mixed media.
Where did you get your experience/training, are you self-taught?
I studied art history, and just worked on my own all through school. There was an artist from Edinburgh that I worked with during that time. I wanted to keep going with this, keep working on it.
I didn’t take art history thinking I would get here, I just thought I would keep doing school… I really like entrepreneurial stuff too, I knew I wanted to do something business-related. It just all came together.
How would you describe the subject or content of your work?
That is a constant struggle, but I tell people that I am interested in urban and industrial landscape. I do representational and nonrepresentational work as well, but it’s all based on urban shapes and ideas.
What does your studio space mean to you?
For me this space is really important because it is my way to connect with the public. At the same time I can’t be as messy as I’d want to, I have to keep stuff on the walls in case someone comes in and wants to see some finished work. There is a different relationship with this space as a gallery/studio than I would with an off-street personal studio that would be more private. Maybe I would delve into the work more. There is always that possibility that someone might walk in, and with an experimental work that I can’t explain yet, or an unfinished work that looks ugly.
I do sometimes pull the curtains and lock the door to do some uninterrupted work, on Sunday for example. It’s a different relationship with the space than a traditional artist would have, but I do like it, and need it.
What inspires you these days – what are you reading, listening, watching that energize you in your work?
When I’m here in the studio, this might sound really nerdy, but I listen to audio books. I don’t know, it seems to use a totally different part of the brain. I can’t listen to music for some reason, but audiobooks are great. I love really really long, dense audio books, like Tolstoy. When it’s like 50 hours I’m like yeah a 50 hour audiobook!
As far as inspiration, I read a lot of contemporary art magazines to stay up to date on what’s going on. I also try to read about installation work and events going on around the Maritimes. Even though I’m not really in that world I like to think about the ideas.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an artist?
I’m always worried that I won’t have any new ideas. I think musicians must deal with that fear too, what happens if I never think of another song? That’s always there.
When I’m trying to come up with new ideas I can stay awake for hours and think and think, like a little hamster running in my head. This last batch of new works kept me awake for a week. I think on some level everyone has a stressful time at work. It’s like poor me, I have to paint! Trying to structure my day into a work day is also a challenge. The work can possibly never end. And since I live in the same space as I work, at the end of the day I could read a book or watch Netflix, or I could go paint. I should go paint! I’m learning to give myself permission to take a day off, that it’s ok not to think about painting for awhile. Just trying to achieve some sort of balance.
Aside from your work as an artist, do you have a day job?
I did, I worked at Enterprise SJ, but I left there 2 years ago to do this. I also teach art history classes at the university once in awhile. Mostly it’s just this!
Do you have a motto that you live by?
Oh I wish I did! That’s a really good question… I want to be satisfied and content with what I’ve done. I don’t want to say happy, but fulfilled maybe? I like this (gestures around the studio), now, I guess. That’s not really an answer to your question. I should think about this…
I’ve got it. Pay my bills. That’s my motto. Feed the dog and pay the bills.
Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events?
Group show at the Charlotte Street Art Center
2014 High Water, This Town is Small Artist-Run Centre, Charlottetown, PEI (upcoming)
2014 Beauty, Charlotte Street Arts Centre, Fredericton, NB (upcoming)
If you’d like to stop in to visit Sarah and Pip, drop her a note through email, FB or Twitter to make an appointment, or take your chances and hope the curtains will be open!
Check out Sarah’s work on her site. www.jonesgallery.ca