Heather Jones is an artist, designer, and educator whose work questions and pushes traditional conceptions of both quilt making and painting. She is drawn to fabric, to its familiarity, its inherent qualities of saturated color and textural luminosity, and its invitation to be touched. Fabric reflects, captures, and interacts with light in a way that no paint can. Jones’ chooses to create paintings with fabric because it feels honest: clean lines are formed between colors through the process of being sewn together, rather than through the use of an artificial barrier like tape. By manipulating fabric and pulling it taut, seam lines shift and stretch, revealing their final placement only once the painting is finished.
She is also interested in the historical and socio-political relationship between women and textiles. She explores the relationship between gender, place, time, and culture in her work, as a way of connecting with her Euro-Appalachian ancestors who settled into southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, many of whom made goods with their hands as their livelihood and connection to their ancestral homes.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Heather Jones: I’ve been in here since May of this year. It’s still new.
F-D: When you moved in, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
HJ: I think in terms of the studio space I knew that I wanted the design wall; I wanted to incorporate a big design wall because of my process. Then I wanted to be near the windows to take advantage of as much natural light as I could, but with it being that we've only been in here since the end of May, I may have to move around a bit because the heat isn’t the absolute best. We'll see how it goes, so far it's working out really well.
F-D: Has the location of the studio (i.e the neighborhood, city, building etc.) influenced your work in any way?
HJ: No, not really. The space is ideal though I’d prefer to have a place like this closer to my house because we're about a half hour away, but I haven't really noticed the environment having any effect on my work.
F-D: Does the distance affect your practice? For example, do you only come out here a couple of days a week?
HJ: I do right now. This is actually the first time I've had a studio outside of the house. I've had a studio at home for the last ten plus years but never outside of the house. I have a 10-year old and 12-year old at home, so I've always wanted a studio at home so I can pop in and out. This location means I have to make a concerted effort to go. It's not a far drive but it is a drive. It's not something where you can just pop over for an hour. But the light. . . it allows you to see colors differently . . . Having this bigger space provides the possibility for bigger ideas and plans for larger pieces. This artist studio consortium is open the first Friday of every month and then the third Sunday. So people open their studios and a lot of people come by. That has been nice as well; being able to increase my visability in that way.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself, inside the studio and out?
HJ: Typically when I'm in the studio I bring headphones just to drown out distracting noises. Other than that, it really depends on if I'm starting from scratch or not. I do sometimes rough out a drawing in a sketchbook if I have an idea about a piece of a specific size. Really, most of my creative process is improvisational and takes place in experiments on the design wall. Cutting up fabric and sewing it together. I do the stretching here too so I get out tables and make big workspaces. My day really depends on what I have going on at the moment.
F-D: Do you have employment outside of being a full time artist?
HJ: I design quilt patterns and sell them and I travel to teach. I've got some teaching gigs coming up this November, I'll be teaching in Chicago. It's sort of under the same umbrella, but it's a different body of work.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
HJ: They're personal reflections of my ancestry and my heritage. I'm from the Appalachian region and I have one person in my family in particular who was a quilt maker. It's autobiographical, but they're not necessarily self-portraits. I consider them paintings even though there's not paint applied to the work itself, but in the paintings I like the fact that they reference women's work and the history and association of women and textiles in the way painting can't. It's also about the color. I'm a huge fan of Josef Albers. Sometimes it's about how the colors look together. Sometimes it's just them sitting on the shelf and if I see them together I think it might be a really interesting combination. Sometimes it's really just about color and form. There's something to me about the textile that's approachable. I hope that approachability makes it easier to consume for a larger audience.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
HJ: Woven cotton fabric that's commercially available. Typically I use all new fabric. My biggest concern and reason for using new fabric is tension. When the fabric is pulled taught, it needs to remain strong enough to maintain its integrity. So it's mostly linen or cotton blends on stretchers.
F-D: Where do you source your textiles?
HJ: I have a wholesale account with a manufacturer. There are also great local stores. I work primarily in solid color cottons and there are literally thousands of colors commercially available in solid cotton fabrics. It's not like painting where you can mix your pigments to the exact color you desire. I've done some dyeing but I'm not really interested in that process. I just want it available so I can pick and choose. With this process I'm relying on what the material is and of itself. There are some things that I can control though, depending on where you place the seam, you can create some subtle line work or shading, which I find enjoyable.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
HJ: I start out with pre-cut fabric. A lot of times I just buy yardage or what’s called buying fabric off the bolt. Then I use a cutting surface and rotary cutter and begin cutting strips of fabric. They don't have to be [the same size]. If you were to make a quilt you have to be pretty accurate and meticulous about your sizes. With these paintings, it typically begins with chopping up strips of fabric and then putting them together in interesting compositions, again, using the design wall. I usually lay out the whole design, sometimes part of it, and then start sewing them together. I do use a semi-industrial sewing machine because I want the seams to hold up, the taughtness of the fabric on the frame pulls at that seam. Other than that, I utilize a lot of quilt making techniques. Once I have the finished composition I stretch it over a wooden panel.
F-D: Do you work with narratives, plot, or a general progressive ideas?
HJ: I think so in some instances. [I have] one piece that I have conceptualized in terms of subject matter, color palette, and scale for one of the fairs in Miami this year. It specifically deals with women's issues, more so than a lot of the other work. It's dealing with government control of women's bodies and rights. My idea is to make it 8x10 feet for maximum affect. And I've not done one quite that big yet so I'm interested in the challenge of working that large. Of course, women’s labor is inherently in the work, again, because of the process and the history of textiles. This one that I'm working on is really the first time where I've sat down and had a conscious idea of what I want to do, what its going to mean, why I'm using these colors. It's all reds and whites.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your making?
HJ: For sure. I grew up with a love of quilt.; I started collecting antique quilts when I was in high school. One person in my family quilted, she was my great-great aunt and she made me a baby quilt when I was born and she was like, eighty-five, and I still have it. I really credit her with instilling this love of quilts in me. I always thought it was so cool because I wasn't her grandchild or great grandchild, I was just some baby in the family who needed a quilt. She continued to [make quilts] throughout her life. There certainly is personal history in my work, which is why I think I'm so excited about this body of work. These paintings with textiles. . . they are a middle ground of where I am and where I want to go as an artist.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
HJ: The theme of the book that I wrote was. . . finding inspiration in the everyday. I used all sorts of everyday things I would see: abandoned buildings, tiles at the Cincinnati Art Museum, random architectural elements, all as inspiration for quilt patterns that I then produced. I wanted to make a point that Inspiration can come from anywhere. That was the unintentional purpose of the book. When you are aware of things around you, the more likely you are to be inspired by the things you see. I have friends who travel all over the world for inspiration. I've got two young kids so that’s not always easy. But it’s easy to learn how to see the world around you and become inspired by those things already present in your life.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
HJ: It allows me to push my comfort boundaries in terms of scale. Having open space that's not confined lets me work differently. I think the uninterrupted time is also helpful. It's awesome to have a studio at home but I've got laundry to do, dishes to be done, vacuuming to get finished. It's nice to not have those [distractions] present.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
HJ: I think there are a lot of people who are starting to work with textiles. I feel like textiles are becoming more common than they used to be. I don't really look at [current trends]; I try to keep my own vision. I did that more when I was making my own quilts, some people would look at different blogs and I didn't want to look at other peoples work because I didn't want to be inadvertently inspired.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
HJ: It ties back to the book. I think it's important to open your eyes and see what's around you, because you might really love [something you see] and find a way to utilize it in your own work.
F-D: When asked, what do you tell people you do for a living?
HJ: I have a hard time admitting that I’m an artist and I think that's because I studied art history for so long. I think too, sometimes, that it's a lofty term, because I was writing quilt patterns and instructions. For a long time I [thought of myself as] a designer. So I typically say designer. But that identification is beginning to shift more towards “artist”. I don’t think I’m there yet.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
HJ: For me, marketing these as paintings felt risky, because before it was a craft. In terms of physicality and scale, I created a piece for our show at Marta Hewitt that was 72” x 80” and it was made out of a couple panels that were patch worked together, to me that was a risk because I wasn't quite sure how it would turn out but I knew I had this big wall space I could utilize and I wanted to push it and see how big I could make it.
Words of wisdom?
HJ: Don't be afraid to try things, I've always been creative but it wasn't until I had kids that I stepped out of my comfort zone. I used to paint and when I had kids I wanted a creative outlet. I decided to start making quilts because I had always wanted to, and I thought "I'm going to make some baby quilts for them." I loved working with fabric because it wasn't messy, and at that point our studio was in our dining room and the kids could be around and I didn't have to clean out brushes. . .and if it's all over the floor the kids aren't going to eat it. They were always in my studio as they were growing up. The textiles and the fabric allowed me to express my creativity while mothering two babies. Being a mother really had an effect on my practice.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
HJ: I just finished a large commission four-piece for the new Port Authority building in Charleston, South Carolina. I made four panels, each measure 48" x 30" and they will be installed as two diptychs in the building in December of 2018. It was my first public commission and I'm really excited to have had the opportunity to create work that will be in such a prominent location.
The large piece that I talked about above is finished and it's called You Don't Get It, Do You? It is 80" x 120" and consists of a draped background and two of my fabric paintings that float in front, and it will be shown at Aqua Art Fair in Miami in December, in Imlay Gallery's booth. I'm really happy with how it turned out and can't wait to see it installed in the space.
I've got a number of shows coming up this winter and spring, but I'm most excited about one in Berlin, at dr. julius | ap gallerie. The exhibition is called CENTURY. idee bauhaus, and it's a project that they have invited 100 international artists to participate in, to honor the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, which is next year. The exhibition runs April 29- June 2019 and we were asked to produce a series of work that explores what the idea of the Bauhaus means to us and our work.