Fertility and Growth:
The Art of Cassie Jones
Next to Nothing (2008), Acrylic, Felt and Staples on Panel
A painting is a series of marks joined together to form an object or work over which our eyes may freely roam.Pierre Bonnard
On a gusty night in early spring, a crowd was gathering outside the RedFlagg Gallery for artist Cassie Jones’s first show in New York City. This made perfect sense to me since the gallery’s press release explained that Jones’s pieces share a common element of “fertility and growth.”
Inside the gallery space – exposed brick, textured plaster and shiny ventilation pipes – Jones in a black sweater and red and black tartan skirt, looked expansive. And why not? Her acrylic, felt, and staple works on panel literally jumped from the walls.
Some of the pieces were playful, others organic and mysterious. In one piece, felt layers were painted a rich cream, reminding me of the torso of a Greek god. And another painting seemed a clever play on leopard print with its chrome yellow background and gray and black “spots.”
Wild River Review’s editor in chief and I moved to a quieter room containing record sleeve-sized paintings, also by Jones. We joined a third visitor and shared our observations, seeing webs, chains and repeating patterns in the paintings. As a group, we began to see elements of our childhoods: a slinky in one painting, a butterfly in another; and in another, a series of balls tossed into the air, deceptively simple designs which invited close observation and conversation.
We traveled through the show in our own little world translating colors, hues and tones into words and stories. Standing in front of a three-dimensional work, which sensuously and provocatively looked like fallopian tubes, and being able to describe it as “kinky” (in a way I had never used the word before) led me to realize a beautiful pearl of truth: We all visualize and interpret the world in very unique ways, and Jones’s work had opened something in me.
Whether we take literally what we see in front of us, or have an appreciation for the unseen, or both, Jones’s work reminds us that art is a mode of transgression. There were questions I wanted to ask her. When I finally caught up with her a few weeks later this is what she had to say:
WRR: What is your definition of inspiration?
Cassie Jones: Inspiration means a lot of things to me, but the best way to describe it is through the most basic definition – the idea of breathing something in and making it a part of yourself. The act of making art for me comes from being in the world and absorbing information, ideas, and colors from all kinds of things – nature, scientific imagery, cartooning, music, movies, fashion, art, etc. I spend time thinking about what parts of those things appeal to me and challenge me the most, and then all I can really do when I go to work in the studio is quiet my mind and respond to the materials in front of me as directly, simply and as freely as I can.
WRR: How would you explain the process by which you transfer inspiration/idea to finished piece?
Cassie Jones: With the works on paper the making is the inspiration – I work quickly and intuitively and let the process lead the way. After they are made, it’s more a matter of editing and choosing which ones I think are most exciting or surprising. With the low-relief works on panel, it’s a lengthier process. Constructed on panels, these pieces are covered with felt, which is cut, stapled, stuffed (like quilting) and then painted. In the case of these pieces I need to have more of an idea of where they are headed from the start, but there are still lots of surprises along the way and they almost always diverge from my initial imaginings.
WRR: What is the most unusual thing you can think of right now that has inspired you?
Cassie Jones: Well, I don’t know how unusual it is, but music is a major inspiration. Like art, music can be so surprising and moving and sinister and sweet all at the same time. That kind of multi-faceted quality is very exciting to me. That, and how honest music can be. When a song is really good, all that matters is the way it feels. It’s beyond explanation.
Along these same lines, there was a letter that my niece wrote to Santa last year. She’s too young to read and write, so it was just a dictation and in it she listed things she wanted and she named the people she loves. It was an unedited and totally true account of how she sees the world. That was inspiring to me as an artist.
WRR: Why do you choose the mediums you do to work with?
Cassie Jones: In January, I started a body of new works on paper and I decided to include those in the show. I am pretty much always making the works on paper. They are kind of my “lab” in which new ideas and forms can take shape. I choose to work on Duralar because of the luminosity that comes through the translucency of the paper. Also, Duralar is so slick that it allows for a really immediate transfer from hand to page – the paint can just glide across the surface. The images are inspired by the natural world (including botanical drawings and illustrations), but they are nevertheless drawn from memory and impressions rather than direct transcriptions from any one motif. They end up being my subjective response and impressions of the world.
As for the low-relief paintings, I began making those during my last semester of graduate school and have been developing and growing that body of work throughout the last year. The low-relief pieces are not taken directly from the works on paper, but are an extension of themes and relationships that begin there. Most of these pieces have three-dimensional elements and the surfaces of the paintings play host, like a Petri dish, to growths and mutations that emerge from the skin of the painting in a way that seems to violate the rational order of the rectangle.
Sometimes I leave the felt fuzzy and raw and other times, when I apply more paint, the surface changes a lot, resembling animal hide or plastic. The felt is stapled to the panels, which I like because the act of stapling is like its own sentence. Also, in the finished pieces, I am interested in the juxtaposition of the staples with the soft, comforting characteristics of the felt. It makes the felt more reminiscent of flesh, and the staples then also recall sutures.
Some of the works also contain painted surface patterns that resemble various types of camouflage found in nature (with inevitable design and military references.) I’m interested in camouflage because it is so practical and functional – it is about the base need to protect oneself, but when you see it on a bright yellow painting on a white wall, the painting can’t help but take on an a much more absurd and vulnerable effect. Sometimes it reminds me of Yogi Bear hiding behind a tree half his girth. This image has always been quite endearing to me – something about not being fully in touch with our relationship to the world that seems universal in a certain way.
In preparing for the show at RedFlagg, I knew I wanted the works on paper to be in dialogue with the larger, low relief paintings. Because while they are disparate bodies of work in some ways, they both begin with intuitive responses to my materials and hopefully arrive at a place where the contradictions in the work (painterly/sculptural, benign/threatening, representational/abstract, etc) can coexist.
WRR: What does an art opening mean to you? What do you see as its purpose in the creative process?
Cassie Jones: Having this show, my first in New York City, has been just amazing for me, and openings are a great opportunity for artists to get together with people they care about, meet new people, and celebrate what we’ve made. The opening is also a special opportunity to talk to people in person about the work.
Within the creative process, shows are important benchmarks that give you a chance to think about how you want to present your work and your point of view to the world. As far as the creative process goes, I try to keep the idea of how the work will be received out of my mind and out of my studio. But afterwards, the conversations that grow out of exhibits such as this one, and the opportunity they afford to see the work out there in the world, definitely shapes what comes next. It always leaves me ready to start something new and get right back to work.
The Far Reaches (Installation View) (2008), Acrylic, Felt and Staples on Panel
Born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Terrence Cheromcka is an undergraduate student at New York University. Her love of New York City and her writing career began when she became a Time For Kids reporter at age 11. She interviewed stars such a Jewel, New Jersey Nets player, Richard Jefferson; Lil Bow Wow, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.; and she covered the first Kid’s Conference at the United Nations. Along with being a published political cartoonist she is also a contributor to “the Vent” section of her local newspaper.