NEW ISLAND is a body of work created during and directly following the quarantine period of the global pandemic of 2020. Like many artists, Jones lost studio time instead of gaining it. This work is response and resistance to the seemingly endless isolation, granted by stay-at-home orders, that shape shifted into a barrage of new and more difficult tasks.
Jones explores themes of chance, beauty, claustrophobia, and escape in parallel to her new experience of the world. Her methods juxtapose precision and pandemonium, leaning on the medium of painting to transcribe a dance between intention and loss of control. Through an exploration of the relationships between predator and prey; big cats, snakes, and water birds are metaphors in a narrative of belonging and solitude; rest and risk. Jones creates tiny worlds that allow the beast, both inner and outer, to pause and find stillness.
We were made islands unto ourselves, time expanding yet empty. Recent strangers in an unknown land, separated, alone, we learned to map a different course, fill the days with solitary regimens. You picked up the groceries. There were dishes. I painted three hours on a Wednesday and one time the whole afternoon. There was only time and yet I could find none.
Make a talisman. Find a good luck charm. A lock of hair. Spotted feathers. A secret shock. She sang a song. We stacked stories like rocks and she burned that wood, sitting there all night. Little prayers, offerings for a future. The birds show us how, weaving a new place to land.
I made idylls to lose myself in, a tangled space to grow. The unpredictability of the landscape, the encroaching vines and profuse blossoms, became a mirror for the uncertainty of the unending days. I lost myself in repetition, the claustrophobic spaces both a refuge and a terror. The predators, a stand-in for self, sought solace in a landscape that was unfettered and strange.
Welcome to the island. Welcome to a new world. We step through time in tandem but apart. Me here. You there. We only have these hours and a future isn’t promised. So we send out a prop, tether ourselves to the sea floor, creating rafts where before there was nothing. Little lands spring up—new earths, new heavens, some hells. The kingdom is volatile and the atmosphere is wild. We can no longer remember where we came from, if we must stay here, or if we are just passing through. We have only this start, this time, this place. Chaos rises around and crowds the air. But if we can find bottom, make new roots, bend towards the light, we might begin to grow.
NEW ISLAND is part of the Independent Projects Program at Alabama Contemporary Art Center. Michelle Jones earned her MFA in painting from Massachusetts College of Art in 2005 and a BFA in painting from the University of Mississippi in 2002. A native of central Mississippi, Jones spent eleven years in Boston, making the journey back South in 2014. She resides on the Gulf Coast with her husband and daughter. With its sweeping vines, clutches of hanging moss, and mix of live oaks and palm trees, life in the deep south feels a bit like living in the jungle and is a direct influence with her most recent works.
Generous funding for this exhibition and related programming is provided by:
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts
Alabama State Council for the Arts
The City of Mobile
Mobile County Commission