For centuries, artists have found mysteries, answers and inspiration in the natural world around them. Aristotle said, “Art takes nature as its model.” The result of this symbiosis can take many forms.
When Charles Jones looks out from his front porch at the pastoral landscape surrounding Sweetwater Farm, between Jonesborough and Johnson City, onto his painter’s canvas flow blindfolded giraffes, blazing zebras and birdlike and mythical creatures of all shapes, sizes and juxtapositions.
Jim Oxandale steps onto his deck, high above Highway 81 and the state’s oldest town, to gaze on layers of mountains and a bevy of birds at feeders. He walks inside to his pottery wheel, and from his fingertips fly luna moths and carpenter ants and honeybees. Colorful catfish, frogs and koi slowly begin to swim ’round his clay bowls.
Jones’ acrylic paintings and Oxandale’s art pottery will be on exhibit Friday, Dec. 9, through Jan. 27 at Jonesborough’s McKinney Center, 103 Franklin Ave., as part of the Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts 2016 Artist Exhibition Series. The opening reception is also Friday, Dec. 9, from 6-8 p.m., and all are free and open to the public.
“When I put together this artist exhibition series I knew that Jim and Charles would be a natural match,” says Director of the McKinney Center Theresa Hammons. “Although their mediums are completely different their color palette, themes and inspiration are extremely similar. Their art is moving, beautiful and masterful.”
Despite their differing choices of media, that natural thread connects the two artists, their contemporaries and many who have gone before them.
“I think all life has a beautiful thread running through it that’s connected, and that’s what you’re looking for as an artist,” says Jones, who was painting portraits of his brothers by age 7 and holds degrees in sculpture and painting.
“Mother Nature is the best artist we have,” says Oxandale, who started in watercolor, turning to pottery as a young professional. “She comes up with some of the most interesting and beautiful creatures, and transferring them to a pot is kind of fun and challenging. It’s actually very challenging.”
One of the reasons Oxandale and his wife, Karen, moved about a year ago after 38 years in Topeka, Kansas, was the natural beauty of the East Tennessee mountains and its inspiration for the pottery he wanted to make a full-time endeavor. He drove through Tennessee several times “and just immediately knew Jonesborough was where we wanted to live.”
A native North Carolinian, Jones is also a happy Jonesborough transplant – after a stint in New York City and 35 years as a fine-art framer in Seattle with his musician wife, Heidi. In 2003, the couple brought their collection of guitars, banjos, flutes and love of creatures and sunshine to five acres off West Walnut Street.
Jones’ training in painting began in college in North Carolina and was honed while in the military, where he worked out of a footlocker, and in New York City where his studio was a table and oils were forsaken for washable acrylic. “In the Army, because of the restrictions, you can’t have oil paint getting on your uniforms,” Jones says. “God forbid.”
After numerous three-dimensional forays, Jones kept coming back to acrylic painting, and despite his enjoyment of viewing others’ landscapes and portraits, his subjects kept returning to animals. “I’ve tried to paint landscapes,” he says. “I just start putting creatures in.”
On a trip to St. Croix, where Heidi grew up, the pelicans inspired him to explore the marvels of feathered creatures. “I’ve used birds as a kind of metaphor, I guess,” Jones says. “On the evolutionary chart, they come from dinosaurs, but they fly sort of like angels. So there’s kind of the high and the low combined in a bird, which is kind of the human condition, in a way.”
Oxandale’s artistic journey began with art classes in school and watercolor painting while he was pursuing a career in toy marketing that took him around the world. In Topeka, after his children were teens, Oxandale took a class in pottery, and as he says, “clay got a foothold.”
He started with pinch pots then found he had a knack for the potter’s wheel, so he started piecing together his own studio. Living in the Midwest, Native American pottery was a big early influence and he sold his ceramics in galleries, home shows and open houses. Then, after 25 years as a marketing pro, he decided to make and market his own work full time – and do that from East Tennessee.
He now creates heirloom kitchen crockery and art pottery and makes each piece unique. “No production work,” Oxandale says, although he does make sets upon request.
It’s not just the visual aspects of their media that fascinate these two artists. There’s also the, well, “gooeyness” factor.
“I love paint,” says Jones, “the look of it, the feel of it, the very material presence of it … I love the goopy physicality of it, and truthfully, that might be the biggest reason why I make paintings.”
Oxandale finds the malleable aspect of his ceramic work to be equally satisfying. “Part of my foothold in clay is that I love gardening, too, and I love working in the dirt,” Oxandale says, “so it kind of was a natural progression from there. I see the beauty in nature everywhere and try to make my own interesting, beautiful things.”
Jones will have about 30 pieces, and Oxandale close to 20, in the McKinney Center exhibition. Jones’ paintings, he says, will range from as large as 72 inches by 54 inches to 10-by-10 inches. As a longtime fine-art framer, Jones will bring that artistry, as well, to the show, crafting and framing all his paintings himself with various handmade finishes.
Oxandale’s work will include art pottery and what he calls functional pieces, including platters, bowls, cups and vases, as well as “showy” pieces.
His techniques include wax resist and handcrafting patterns in the design to add texture and dimension, as well as hand-shaping and painting special handles.
“Sometimes I envy other artists,” says Oxandale, who has two kilns in his home studio where he fires away, “because, with painting, you put your paint on the canvas and you can see instantly what it looks like and what it’s going to look like when you’re done.
But ceramics is less predictable. The glazes interact with each other, and every fire is different and there are so many variables. But when a piece turns out the way you wanted it to turn out, it’s real satisfying.”
Having been exhibited at The Collective and other galleries in Kansas, Oxandale’s ceramics can now be found locally at Art Curious and Piece by Piece, as well as online at oxhollowpottery.com.
Jones has shown his work extensively, including locally at Reece Museum and with Kimsey-Miller Gallery in Seattle, and his work hangs now in Mr. K’s Books in Johnson City, Knoxville and Charleston, S.C.
“Hopefully art – that I make and the art that I look at – can be transformational,” Jones says. “It gives you something even if you’re not sure what …” Jones says. “It should be powerful, but I’m enough of a visual person to want it to be just good to look at … I want it to be somehow just physically beautiful. I strive for that.”
There will be plenty of beauty to behold at the Dec. 9-Jan. 27 joint exhibition. “I think it’s going to be a good show,” Jones says.
Plus, Oxandale says, there’s the “fun” quotient. “I love looking at other people’s work,” he says. “Everybody has something to say with their art and artists are so subjective. I just love stumbling upon an artist that I’ve never seen before and collecting their work.”
Some of Oxandale and Jones’ work will be on sale at the exhibition. For more information, contact Theresa Hammons, McKinney Center director, at 423-753-0562.