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Jennie C. Jones displays work narratives of black musicians

By Clayre Benzadon

Section: Arts

March 6, 2015

On Friday, Feb. 27, artist Jennie C. Jones came to speak at the Rose Art Museum as part of the “Art | Blackness | Diaspora Project.” Her paintings mostly speak as if they were telling a history through the lens of a photograph, drawing attention to the work narratives of black musicians, with her works containing jazz, presence and absences.

Jones admits that she had mostly struggled to create pieces that spoke about the issue of race, since it takes courage to define a black body and to tell her own story through minimalist works of art. We can see this tension through her work “Crescendo with Ledger Tone.”

The black background contrasts with the glowing reddish-tinted line in the middle, which seems to reflect a disruption in the piece. This demonstrates the inclusion of space in her pieces. They create moments of silence, as if she were pausing to flip a jazz record before playing it on a record player. The black background gives both a sense of absence but also of presence, highlighting the materiality to the composition.

Most of her minimalist works serve to get viewers to interpret the pieces for themselves. Jones says that it’s the materials that are doing the work for her rather than her having to really think about what it is that will be projected onto the print, a sort of spiritual process that consumes her with musicality.

The musical aspects of the piece serve to dampen and buffer the paintings, because usually paintings, as objects, can be passive-paintings. The installations, the position of the pieces and the museum space all affect the sound and architecture in the room as well as vice-versa. She speaks of how music creates interplay between a rising and falling of tempo, freezing a moment in time like a “memento mori” painting, and as a way to create sentences and poetry out of her works.

She considers art as “everything to her” but also “terrifying to her,” which spoke to many of the other artists in the room, as it is one of the biggest struggles they face every day of their lives as they grapple with their identities and fear for taking ownership of a certain style of art, since styles of art are flexible and oftentimes very hard to clearly define.

Another significant point that Jones attempts to reflect through her works is her sense of stretching beyond boundaries and creating a new narrative not only in the Rose Art Museum, but also throughout every space in which she has the opportunity to express.

The sculptural qualities of her paintings are ultimately based on formal decisions focusing on how things relate to each other—through texture, structure and connections of colors. The place of resonance is embodied through the acoustic and sonic verse visually in her pieces. The aggressive nature of her compositions serve to create, more than anything else, a conversation with, as she states, “quotation marks around music.”

The color choices are a big part of her work. The union of the warm red and oranges together creates a burst of sound encapsulated in time, like jazz music culminating before the sonic and optic qualities come together and work towards creating a density but also brightness, balance, light and sound reverberation.

Overall, Jones is especially interested in the ephemeral, intangible—sounds and color. These techniques create a sort of escape and create an easier way to express the struggles reflected in the pieces.

What was especially impressive is the way in which Jones was able to capture bebop jazz notations and geometry of music notation through her painting. She played us her sound piece, which one of the participants in the audience thought was a sort of farewell blues composition with Elsworth Kelly influences. The combination of the poetic history, art history and musical history all intertwine to introduce a more complex interpretation of minimalist art.

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