Tennessee artist Vanessa Jones on moving to Ireland: “I didn’t understand immersion heating. It was really a great cultural adjustment ‘

For artist Vanessa Jones, many Christmases have arrived at the same time this year – she graduated from NCAD with an MFA with High Honors. Then his painting “Cabbage Baby” was selected for the Zurich Portrait Prize and is now exhibited at the National Gallery. To top it off, last month she won two RDS Visual Arts Awards.

some grew up in “a small farm transformed, in 10 years, into a family home” on a hill in Tennessee. Her Korean-born mother had moved to America at the age of nine when she and her brother were adopted by a Michigan couple and received “an American education: farm, church, camp, vacation. birdwatching in an Airstream Across America ”.

Their birth mother had moved to America with the intention of bringing them in, but that did not happen.

“In the end, my mother’s grandmother had to give them to the baby home in Incheon on condition that they were adopted together.”

Jones’ father was from Alabama, she says, and “grew up quite poor, the family was very religious and the church really cared for them.”

He went to college, became a minister and boxer, stayed with Mohammad Ali in Miami, and shared the same trainer, Angelo Dundee.

“It was called the Punching Pastor. He had his own roofing business and made copper figurines. I think my dad has good taste, maybe after years of building and exposure to travel cultures as a than a boxer. ”

Her mother was “a collector of oriental things”, and had “a lot of porcelain figurines, chinoiseries”.


“Baby cabbage” by Vanessa Jones

“Baby cabbage” by Vanessa Jones

She also made their clothes, sewed and ran a cleaning business. “It was a very independent education. My mother cleaned office buildings. She would cook dinner, go to work, and leave me with piles of boxes of letterhead thrown in office buildings.

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Jones drew faces, “people from magazines and copied from educational drawing books.”

“My mom encouraged my drawing, probably half for the convenience of a working parent,” but she also ran private art lessons when Jones was 12. my sister and I loved visiting him in Atlanta. He had cool friends and took us to see art films.

On a school trip to New York City, the then 17-year-old Jones saw an opera, a Rothko retrospective at the Whitney, and “total cliché – It was the first time I have experienced the power of art. She also visited Italy and Greece the same year – “my parents raised a lot of money” – and “the“ Charioteer of Delphi ”left a deep impression on me”.

Jones won a scholarship to George Washington University specializing in fine arts and art history and yet she says she grew up “looking at the careers of Cecily Brown, John Currin, Julian Schnabel , Eric Fischl, their world was so remote from mine that ironically it dissuaded me from being successful in the art world. I entered the arts administration. I was able to observe and learn a lot by doing secretly.

Jones worked at the Frick. “An incredible job. I spent my days with Goya, Velázquez, Vermeer, Whistler, Rembrandt, Duccio, Ingres. She then traveled to IMMA in Dublin, “an intimate and laborious environment” where she had “never witnessed such ambitious thinking in contemporary programming, fundraising and education” .

“I met a boy from Finglas outside Rasher Byrnes in Temple Bar on St. Patrick’s Day at 2 am. We got married a year later – and all I knew was Ireland was definitely not New York.

“I didn’t understand immersion heating. It was really a great cultural adjustment – having to heat the water in advance. But what was different is what I enjoy being here now.”


“Clam Girl” by Vanessa Jones

“Clam Girl” by Vanessa Jones

Neuroscience, myths, readings on shamanism and hallucinogens, medieval and Renaissance art, his Korean heritage, all inform Jones’s distinctive work.

During Covid, she created a series of “self-replicating self-portraits” including “Cabbage Baby”, “Clam Girl”, “Bowmen”, “Twins”, “Bardot Hat”, “HoMi Hand Plow”.

For Jones, a large self-portrait is a detachment from oneself.

“You scrutinize yourself in a painting very differently from the way you scrutinize yourself in the mirror or in a photograph – and a large self-portrait reflects the process and the idea more than a particular likeness perhaps?” ”

“Cabbage Baby” – rich in symbolism with its walled garden, white cabbages, foxgloves, robin, Korean hair knot – was inspired by a podcast on the book Revelations of Divine Love by 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich. For Julien, a nut in his hand reveals that God made it, God loves him, God keeps him. And this idea shines behind this painting.

Listening to the nutty portion of the podcast as she drove, “It was like a dream I had had a short time ago, where my daughter was slowly disappearing until she was a tiny little head in the palm.” from my hand. I stopped at the traffic lights and cried. That’s what I wanted to do with ‘Cabbage Baby’ – put that moment in a painting.

The precious little hazelnut becomes in Jones’ imagination his own precious little baby and God created both.

“There was a mystical synchronicity. The MFA taught me that I can run with any ideas I want, which in any other field of work can feel a bit wacky.”

Jones says she’s a nun. “I used to cringe saying this before I had a child, but I guess I am, and my belief in God is as philosophical as it is religious.”

Growing up, Thanksgiving was the biggest holiday.

“Christmases were more intimate. We stayed home and comfortable. We had a family ritual where Dad would come down all the way from the attic and set up the tree, and my sister and I would put on the ornaments and too many garlands.

“We always had a traditional southern baked ham and our big family dog ​​walked into the neighbor’s garage one Christmas and ate their ham that had dried out for the month. In the Christmas spirit, they were very forgiving. . “

Jones, based in Dublin since 2006, has “embraced the Advent calendar. My husband makes a chocolate with my daughter. Her sister posts a toy every year. That means her six-year-old daughter in Finglas and her cousin in Tennessee are opening their calendars simultaneously.

“In Dublin, once the lights are on, there is a real Christmas buzz. You are at Christmas, like it or not, which I love. We’re going to have dinner with my sister-in-law but last year it was like when we were grown up. Just the three of us and the dog.

“I ordered a goose again this year. Much nicer than the turkey. It’s more European, more traditional.

“I cook dishes from the Southern United States – stuffed eggs, cornbread stuffing, and pecan pie. Christmas is very foodcentric and the food manages to bring cultures together around one table in a kind of fellowship with your absent family.

See more at vanessajonesartist.com or @ vanessaleejones81

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