Artist Robert Sparrow Jones grew up in rural Pennsylvania, where he built tree houses and felt at home in the forest.
"Catchment," a solo exhibition currently on display at Gallery Espresso, is inspired by the artist's childhood memories and fueled by his passion for nature. Jones's idyllic paintings offer heartfelt meditations on the passage of time and insightful reflections on the things that truly sustain us.
This talented artist recently spoke with the Savannah Morning News about the timeless appeal of stories, the psychological power of color and the primal allure of the natural world.
The paintings in "Catchment" have a strong narrative quality. Why are you drawn to stories?
My father was an English teacher and we were surrounded by books, so the story is always deeply rooted. I also had a strong interest in film and black and white movies, particularly Truffaut, Goddard and Hitchcock. Strong dramatic imagery and storytelling continue to inspire me. In college and grad school, I studied creative writing. I think of each painting as a short story.
Please tell me about the title of your exhibit at Gallery Espresso and what it means to you.
A catchment is the collecting of water, especially rainwater. Though for me, it is also about being in the in-between. I find that the places between the bucolic and the cosmopolitan, where the new and the old world overlap, construct our contemporary mysteries.
Your work uses an almost otherworldly color palette. How do you decide which colors to use? What kind of an effect are you after?
In my paintings, I like to think I utilize heightened color, weighing the pictures into something other than reality, engaging a tension of psychology and emotional indifference. I want the viewer to never forget the communal wild.
Also, my landscapes and waterscapes embody many passages of time by fusing separate layers of color to let light pass through. Sometimes they imply planes of flux for a sense of movement and a deep feeling of continuous space. They are experienced as if growing into existence like the seasons of a forest or the waves of the sea. Recently my colors have been more old-timey. I really try to experiment a little with color each time I begin a new painting. That way it stays fresh.
I understand you built quite a few tree houses and forts growing up in Pennsylvania. How did that experience impact your art and shape your way of seeing the world?
Building tree houses in Pennsylvania was important for me on many levels. At first, it kept us busy, though it did not always keep us from trouble. But being in the woods was an adventure and, in turn, gave me an inherent appreciation for our natural resources.
Also, during that time, it seemed everybody was stripping down their old beautiful Victorian houses, just as the very landscape was also being stripped. I would take those old tall windows, paneled doors and crown molding to build these wonderful tree houses. And being in them was an easy meld into nature. I could feel the gentle sway, high in the tree boughs. Here was a genuine sense of strength and fragility. These would be larger metaphors that would thread throughout all my work.
The paintings in "Catchment" focus on humanity's deep connection to nature. What are you trying to encourage viewers to understand about the natural world?
I'm thinking about human complexity and contradiction while subtly aiming at global environmental issues. By exploring these realms, I hope to develop simple ways to represent the extraordinary sense of wonder of our natural resources and the deep implications of climate change. I also like to imagine my role as an artist is an important one, and that responding to the growing challenge for a sustainable future in visual art can engage the world in a visceral, tactile and emotional way.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Originally from Jermyn, Penn., Robert Sparrow Jones began to paint while living in Seattle. He earned an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a B.F.A. from Kutztown University and has exhibited his work in solo and group shows across the United States. Over the years, he has taught art at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Towson University and Piedmont College. He currently lives on a canal in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and teaches painting at NOVA Southeastern University.
IF YOU GO
What: "Catchment: Recent Oil Paintings by Robert Sparrow Jones"
When: Through Aug. 31
Where: Gallery Espresso, 234 Bull St.
Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. Monday - Friday; 8 a.m. - 9 p.m. Saturday - Sunday
For more information: 233-5348