In the middle of Duke Street, in the heart of Saint John’s uptown, stands a curious little building. It was constructed in 1912 to serve as the office of local contractor Edward Bates, and was later purchased by the Architect’s Association, but today it is home to the gallery studio of Sarah Jones. What makes it so curious is that the building is only eleven feet deep, and is home to a monstrous beast of a dog that gobbles up postmen by the dozen, or would if it didn’t require such a suitably enormous amount of sleep, “It is pretty crowded, but he’s good company; he doesn’t move, he just picks a spot, and then he’s done for the day.” Pip, the six-foot, double-decker, Newfoundlander, presumably bred for the purpose of riding into battle, recently curated his own series of paintings in collaboration with Jones (human), comprising of twenty scenes found during the course of his afternoon walks. When asked about his work, Pip merely rolled over and offered a paw.
Pip’s human and live-in artist had more to offer, “I guess when I’m self-describing, I just say that I’m a visual artist based in Saint John. My interest is in urban landscapes, and urban spaces, and how they function in relation to each other, and how people interact with urban spaces; the structures that are found in an urban center. My work ranges from a modern representational landscape work on industrial and urban landscape, to some non-representational stuff…” Sarah mastered in art history at Queen’s University, but has always been a life-long painter. Taking the plunge into her career as a full-time artist came five years ago, after converting her former Germain Street bookstore into a studio. “That has been a career success; just to wear a comfy shirt, and elastic pants. I like being able to take tea breaks when I want to. There were very few options: there was manual labour, or something in the arts field, but I suck at manual labour, so… I really like having something at the end of the day: It’s going from nothing to having this work, something really tangible…”
It was John Dolan, an Edinburgh artist who was then instructing workshops while residing in Saint John, that introduced Sarah to the technique she has become known for, “It was one of those pivotal moments. I was working with a brush, and oil paints at the time, and he was like, ‘No, no! Just ditch all that’, and he handed me a palette knife, and said, ‘This is what you need to use.'”
“It’s so much easier to clean up than brushes. I hate cleaning up brushes! I hate it, and it’s a pain in the butt!”
Since then, Sarah has been slashing her way through a swath of canvas in her trademark style. Her paintings, ranging from prominent wall pieces down to the handheld, contain a wealth of depth; landscapes and streetscapes, representing a miraculous amount of scope and detail, use little more than expertly placed paint smudges, which somehow leave an undeniable sense of your exact position within the city, “I find in Saint John there’s always these visual anchors that I can represent realistically with my knives. People’s eyes are drawn to the realistic components, so, like the cranes in the harbour, or the red and white stacks in Courtney Bay, I can represent them in a realistic way, and it lets me play around with the rest of the landscape.”
Sarah’s recent work, ‘Spaces’ (2014), takes another perspective on architecture and urban spaces; a bird’s eye view of an evolving city. Sarah explains that they’re intended to resemble a planometric map, “I’ve been working on this idea for a few years; I’ve wanted to be saying something that was representational of a broader urban concept. I had to think about how cities worked, how cities move, and are shaped over time, and how they built up, and what that looks like. White-washing graffiti, and white-washing walls, razing, and building up again; I wanted to get that layer, layer, layer, in a city.” She plans to expand on that her theme of exploring urban and industrial spaces in the future, but with a hope to extend it into a third, or even fourth, dimension with large installation pieces, “This is where I live, and where I get the ideas, but the concept is broader than the location. I’d like to do an installation piece, tracking how people move around urban dwellings, and urban things. I’m very much a two-dimensional artist, I plan in two-dimensions so installation work and figuring out how to move out into the gallery space is a struggle for me, but I’d like to do more. There are so many great art centres around, but they’re not interested in traditional canvas work, but more public/interactive stuff. I’d like to be more involved in that world.”
“I heard someone say that a ninety minute nap boosts your creativity, so artists should take naps over ninety minutes. All the other little people can take naps under ninety minutes, but artists need long naps.”
Sarah’s work in the last few years has quickly made her one of Saint John’s most constant, prevalent, and saleable artists. There may be elastic waisted pants, comfy shirts, and endless amounts of tea, but, for Sarah, it’s still onward and upward, with the occasional detour, “Some days I will do anything to avoid painting, because it’s the hardest thing. I will get down on my hands and knees, and wash the floor, or I will do my paper work, or pay bills. I will pay bills to avoid having to paint! It’s hard work. The great moments are when you think of an idea, or at the end; it’s the payoff at the end of a project, or a series of paintings, knowing that they’re done, and they look good, and I’m happy with them; that’s the payoff.”
To learn more about Sarah Jones’s work drop into her gallery at 73 Duke Street, Saint John, or visit her webpage here. Her newest project, the accurately descriptive titled collection of small works, ‘Sarah Paints Boats on Itty Bitty Canvases’, will be showing at her gallery November 15th 11am-4pm.
“I get this little thrill every time someone says that, or someone tweets about it, because I have a couple pieces down at Happinez, and people I don’t know, they’ll take a picture and be like, ‘That’s a Jones. There’s a Jones painting. Look at this Jones painting in Happinez.”