A LIFE OF ARTISTIC EXPRESSION:
ARTIST LOÏS MAILOU JONES
By Renae Battaglia
In August, the Stella Jones Gallery will present an exhibition of works by internationally acclaimed artist Dr. Loïs Mailou Jones whose work spans over six decades. She is not only seen as one of the premier African-American artists, but one of this centurys most distinguished artists. She is an individual who allowed art to define the direction of her life and, therefore, a life that was an artistic experience.
Dr. Jones was born in 1905 and began painting as a child. "Every summer of my childhood, my mother took me and my brother to Marthas Vineyard Island. I began painting in watercolor which even today is my pet medium."
In 1927, she was awarded a diploma in Design with honors and went on to do graduate studies at prestigious schools in the U.S. and France. She received her bachelors degree from Howard University in 1945, graduating magna cum laude, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Suffolk University in Boston. She also has received honorary degrees from Colorado State Christian University, Massachusetts College of Art, and Howard University and was elected Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts in London.
In 1937, on a general educational fellowship, she went to Paris for the first time where she worked very hard producing 35 to 40 pieces during one years time.
"The French were so inspiring. The people would stand and watch me and say mademoiselle, you are so very talented. You are so wonderful. In other words, the color of my skin didnt matter in Paris and that was one of the main reasons why I think I was encouraged and began to really think I was talented."
In 1996, Jones paintings were featured in an exhibition entitled "Paris, the City of Light" that appeared at several museums throughout the county including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Studio Museum of Harlem The exhibition also featured the works of Barbara Chase-Riboud, Edward Clark, Harold Cousins, Beauford Delaney, Herbert Gentry, and Larry Potter. The exhibition examined the importance of Paris as an artistic mecca for African-American artists during the 20 years that followed World War II.
While developing her own work as an artist, Jones also spent many years teaching and encouraging others. She began her teaching career at the Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina making $1,000 a year, where she set up an entire art department while coaching a basketball team, teaching folk dancing, and playing piano for Sunday church services. She was asked to join the faculty at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1930, where she became one of the founders of the art department and remained as professor of design and watercolor painting until her retirement in 1977.
The exhibit will feature the four periods of Joness artthe American paintings, the France paintings, the Haitian paintings, and the African paintings. Jones traveled widely and studied and lived for periods of time in different parts of the world which her paintings reflect. She has produced work that echoes her pride in her African roots and American ancestry. She combines traditional African forms with Western techniques and materials to create a vibrant and compelling work in many of her pieces.
Married to Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel in 1953, Jones traveled and lived in Haiti. In many of her pieces one can see the influence of the Haitian culture, with its African influences, which reinvigorated the way she looked at the world. Her work became more abstract and hard-edged, after her marriage to Pierre-Noel. Her impressionist techniques gave way to a spirited, richly patterned, and brilliantly colored style. Further travels to eleven African countries enabled Jones to synthesize a body of designs and motifs that she combined in large, complex compositions.
In 1980, she was honored by President Jimmy Carter at the White House for outstanding achievements in the arts. Her paintings grace the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Portrait Gallery, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Palace in Haiti, and the National Museum of Afro-American Artists,.
In her nineties, Jones still paints. She feels that her greatest contribution to the art world has been "proof of the talent of black artists. The African-American artist is important in the history of art and I have demonstrated it by working and painting here and all over the world."
"It has been wonderful to have had this career and to be where I am at this time and have it finally arrive. Hopefully Ive inspired some of the young artists to love their work as much as I have loved my career. It hasnt been easy, but Im still living to see the works arrive."
Renae Battaglia has over twenty-five years of experience in print media as a writer and photographer. As the editor for the Institute on Black Life's newsletter, she first interviewed Dr. Lois Mailou Jones in 1955 when Dr. Jones visited the University of South Florida. Ms. Battaglia currently resides in New Orleans, is the publisher/editor for the Gulf Coast Arts Review and also a freelance writer for Shot in LA Magazine, a magazine about the film industry in Louisiana.
©The Fine Arts Trader 2009