A study in hybrids

Meet the artist/curator: Ashley Jude Jonas

By Eva Buttacavoli

Photo: Ashley Jude Jonas, “Buffalo Husband”

As artistic practices have expanded beyond the boundaries of the production of objects, often incorporating historical context, editing and interpretation – work typically associated with the curator – we are seeing a blurring of the boundaries between the artist and the curator, and the evolution of a hybrid practice, the artist/curator.

Curious, idiosyncratic and deeply attuned to the connectivity between objects and memory, artist Ashley Jude Jonas has long considered herself a guardian of certain bits and pieces from her life. More concerned with extracting memories and unraveling the meaning of objects than making them, her work manifests itself in ceramic, drawing, painting, found object assemblage or … whatever.

Jonas had an unconventional upbringing in her father’s Key West home, which she’s called “… a shack, a museum, a laboratory, a home for wayward objects” that absolutely informs her work. She recounted in a grad school essay: “The windows have no screens. The front door is secured with a padlock. The ground outside is covered in rugs. Swinging saloon doors separate the bathroom from the kitchen. Everything works only as well as it needs to. Nothing is new or arbitrary. My father collects things, lets them live in his house and repurposes them when he needs to.”

She translated this reverence/irreverence of objects into a BFA in ceramic from University of Florida, Gainesville; studied post-bacc under noted ceramicist Peter Beseaker at Syracuse University; then went on to complete her MFA at University of Colorado, Boulder’s highly competitive ceramic program. While in Syracuse, she met and married artist Nicholaus Arnold and collaborated on the highly conceptual, now defunct, art/film collaborative, “The Broken Dayton Machine” (2009-2011, which also included Ian Breidenbach, now owner/curator of Findlay’s very cool Neon Heater Art Gallery).

Fast-forward to December, 2013 and Jonas and Dayton-born Arnold are at it again – this time collaborating on The Blue House Gallery (thebluehousearts.com), they describe as “a gallery, some studios and a place to stay.” Jonas curated the inaugural show, All of the Above, Below and In Between, a seven-person show investigating experimental drawing. Next up is Charmaine Renee, Reasonably Nice Things …, opening Sept. 6, 6–9 p.m. and running through Sept. 17, then Justin Hodges, Pomp and Plastic Things, which opens September 20, 6–9 p.m. and runs through Sept. 30.

At the same time, she’s set up her studio in The Blue House and is currently putting together dozens of these bizarre compositions (porcelain bits, found wood, plaster pieces, folded paper, a shrimp tail) that tease the viewer into a sense of wonder; wonder of the origins of the objects themselves and wonderment at the memory they must contain. Both a conceptualist (an art term describing one for whom exploring or manifesting an idea is paramount to their work) AND a sensualist (meaning here a seeker of gratification of the senses), her art and her curatorial voice are that rare combination poised to make an impact in Dayton and beyond.

We spent a rainy morning recently in The Blue House, the gallery/live/work space she shares with Arnold talking about Richard Serra, our shared South Florida upbringing and, as she described, “Dayton’s accidental patina.”

Tell me about one of your greatest influences.

American painter and sculptor David Ireland (1930 – 2009). He produced these architectural transformations, installations, objects and drawings that challenged viewers’ everyday distinctions between art and non-art. He founded the Capp Street Project (now the Wattis Institute of Contemporary Arts/California College of the Arts), a San Francisco-based experimental art space and artist-in-residency program. Also Richard Tuttle, Matisse, Milton Avery, Harell Fletcher, Miranda July. – Ashley Jude Jonas

What’s your favorite material to work with?

Found objects – I tried to get away from that in grad school; I was afraid it would be seen as a crutch, but I came to realize you can’t get away from how something beautiful happens when you pay attention to the overlooked – a blue bag caught in a tree branch – and how you can re-contextualize and present that. – AJJ

What do you collect?

Things that want to be known.

– AJJ

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

A Cy Twombly. – AJJ

What about curating? I’ve met students and young people who aspire to be curators and think curating is about displaying a few objects that look nice together in a space. But ideally the vision is bigger. It’s a larger and more complex undertaking that stretches over an entire career and explores a particular ideology. Is this the way you think of your work?

Curating for me is like flexing another muscle. It’s a time to solve problems that are not my own.

–AJJ

(Best. Description. Ever.)

A Dayton transplant from Austin, Texas, via Miami, Fla. and Brooklyn, New York, Eva is Executive Director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. A curator and arts administrator for over 23 years, she previously served as the first executive director of FilmDayton; the curator/ director of exhibitions and education at the Austin Museum of Art and the director of education at the Miami Art Museum. You can reach her at EvaButtacavoli@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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