Keller Jones has lived all over the Deep South, but for the past year, she has resided in Aiken, South Carolina. Here, she discusses her current celestial-inspired landscape series, why religion in the South stifled her growth as an artist, and how the presidential election catalyzed her drive to paint.
“I don’t think anyone decides to be an artist. I think you’re born an artist or you’re not. Usually attendant with that is an individualized look at life. We tend to have a different understanding of life, and we process things differently. We’re not accountants. I was always good at artwork, and it bored me because it came naturally. When I learned figure drawing, my drawings were always chosen as the best. I couldn’t understand that. I wasn’t focused on accuracy; I was focused on the emotion. The emotion and the passion that I was born with came through in my art. Because I was a fundamentalist Christian, I didn’t believe that I was any good. Fundamentalists believe that we’re all awful, slimy people. It was hard for me to control this passion and to acknowledge that my art was beautiful and good. It’s been a nightmare to be a Southerner and an artist. Fundamentalist Christianity screws with your head so much. And yet I knew that all I cared about was sex, alcohol, rock ‘n’ roll, art, film, and literature.
I don’t even know how to describe the Deep South. It’s just where conservatism is stronger than liberalism. I started doing portraiture in the Deep South, and I hated it. I kept making the faces look like plastic dolls. But the backgrounds of the portraits, which were landscapes, were unbelievable—they just pulled me in. Every artist in town kept telling me, ‘You need to be doing landscape.’ So I painted one landscape and worked on it for three months. I eventually sold it, and kept doing landscapes because that’s where my energy felt most at home.
The things that I remembered about my life as a child were tied to nature: the woods, every bump and crevice in the road. I just had an innate sense of place in nature. I grew up riding horses, and that’s where I found my peace. There would be times that nature took over and you would just observe. That quiet in nature was what spoke to my soul. The branches, the leaves, the colors, and the weather all greatly affected me. That’s why I paint: it’s always been about the billions of different sunsets and sunrises, combined with weather.
Mars: God of War came from a photograph that a friend took of the landscape in Aiken. I zoomed in on the image, and it looked like a storm. I thought, ‘That’s what Mars looks like.’ And then the horrible election of 2016 happened, and I woke up with tears on my face the next day and painted through it. I didn’t know at the time that Mars was the God of War—I just thought that’s what all pictures of Mars must look like. Maybe I knew that subconsciously, but I know that the final result of the painting had to do with the election. So I’m going to keep going with the planets and paint a whole series. It’s exciting, because if you look at a planet at any time of the day, you’re going to see a different color.”