*This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Design & Living Magazine
Studio photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
Portfolio photos by Ecce Gallery
An average winter day for artist Dan Jones involves waking up early, enjoying a cup of coffee and watching the news with his wife, Julia, before driving her to work. Upon his return, Jones spends the majority of the remaining daylight hours at home in his studio. We visited with this prominent local artist in his creative space to learn more about his personal experiences and approach toward his profession.
Leading Up to One Day In 1980
Jones is a Fargo Native and spent his childhood in the Hawthorne Neighborhood. “It was a great place to grow up. Mom would kick you out the door in the morning, and you’d come back at lunch,” he said. This may sound familiar if you are from North Dakota.
Though Jones was not exposed to art in the classroom, the subject intrigued him. “I’d always been interested, but it never occurred to me to do anything with it,” he said. As a teen, Jones dropped out of school and married young after he and his girlfriend found out they were expecting. He would name his little girl “Paloma” after Picasso’s daughter. She would soon be followed by her sister, Cecelia. Jones and his first wife eventually separated, but Jones remained close with his two eldest daughters.
One Day In 1980
On March 30, 1980, Jones attended the Picasso Retrospective at the Walker Art Center. Since then, he has maintained that this exhibition blew him away. A year later, he passed his GED and enrolled in NDSU to study architecture. Little did he know, it would only take one required art class to convince him to enroll in the art program instead.
After developing his talent at NDSU, Jones decided to transfer to the University of Minnesota. At the time, their art department was influenced by Abstract Expressionists. Jones was older and more serious than most of the other students. Ironically, it was here that Jones became drawn toward realism. He then returned to NDSU where he studied independently, specifically focusing on the techniques of old masters.
Since then, Jones met his wife, Julia Jones. Together they have welcomed a daughter, Danyel, and son, Ian, to their blended family. Today, Jones is a proud grandfather and well-known local artist. For him, the most significant accomplishment of his career is the fact that he’s been able to paint full-time for the last two decades all while raising a family. “My wife and kids are the ones that have sacrificed the most. The art market is very fickle, so it’s hard to have a sense of continuity,” Jones related. He and his wife now live in an apartment, in which a spare room serves as his studio.
After enduring a brain aneurism in 2009, Jones’ family has taken to gathering his works. His wife even started hanging them up in their apartment. “She is my biggest fan and my biggest critic, and you need that. I trust her opinion. She will let me know if I’m done with a painting or not,” Jones explained. “With most paintings, you get to a point where you could keep going and probably loose it or have it be successful. When you get to that point, it’s good to just turn it to the wall and look at it down the road,” he continued.
Whether painting on site (plein air) or from a photograph, Jones eventually stops referencing his source material. These days, due to lingering effects of the aneurism, he primarily works from photographs. “Most of my paintings start at a particular place. By the time I finish them, they may not look at all like that. At some point, you have to let them go and if you’re working from a photograph, you have to put the photograph down and just work on the painting. The painting becomes an entity in itself,” Jones said.
Jones has clients from California to New York. Many started collecting while living in Fargo and have taken his art with them after relocating to other parts of the country or world. At Ecce Gallery alone, Jones has participated in six solo exhibitions and five group shows. In fact, he just had his most recent solo exhibition in the fall of 2017. “It had been a while since we had done a show. There was a lot of build-up for it, so we wanted to make it special,” Mark Weiler of Ecce Gallery said. The opening night of this exhibition was well attended and the evening was made even more memorable due to the beautiful weather.
When you view Jones’ work online through the Ecce Gallery website, you’ll see many rich landscapes featuring realistic subject matter with abstract elements hidden in plain sight. However, you won’t find many winter scenes, even though Jones actually enjoys painting them. “Winter scenes are notoriously unpopular here because everybody wants to forget about the cold,” he lamented.
The Camaraderie Between Artists
Each year, Jones looks forward to an annual artist retreat with other local and regional artists. “We get together and spend the weekend eating, drinking and painting. At night, we’ll set the work up, critique each other, give each other a bad time and laugh a lot. It’s funny because sometimes we’ll all paint the exact same subject and none of them look even remotely close to each other,” he explained.
“It’s always fun to be around other artists and talk about their approach.” – Dan Jones
Jones has also been attending an abstract painting class at the Plains Art Museum taught by Marjorie Schlossman. “It’s going way out of my wheelhouse, but it’s fun. When I’m not actually putting paint on canvas, I’m usually looking at other people’s work for inspiration. It’s always been interesting to me how different artists approach the work and approach the public,” he said.
For aspiring artists, Jones shared these words of advice: “If you’re only half serious about it, don’t bother because it will just frustrate you to no end. If you’re serious about it, it’s all consuming and it should be.”
To view more works by Dan Jones, you can visit eccegallery.com and search ‘Dan Jones.’ You can also keep an eye out for his work in Ecce Gallery’s upcoming group show this spring.