Eric Leonard Jones: 2023 Saddleback Artist-In-Residence
For the 2023 year, Eric Leonard Jones is the Artist in Residence at Saddleback Visual Arts. For this year, Eric is committed to working out his craft in the midst of our community and we in turn were able to learn from his life and artistic practice.
Artist Bio: Eric Leonard Jones grew in the small town of Valdosta, Georgia. It was an X-Factor comic book artist that intrigued him so much that he wanted draw what he saw. Ten years later, he graduated with his Bachelors in Art and went on to CSU Fullerton for his MFA. Eric’s representational portraiture and abstraction to captivate the audience and draw them near. The process of the work is shown in almost every stage of the work which leaves the artist vulnerable. Currently, Jones is teaching at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Golden West College, CSU, Fullerton, and Saddleback College. He also is a professional painter who shows in Los Angeles, Orange County, CA, and Southern Georgia.
Interview with Eric Leonard Jones
In recent years, you’ve been making portraits and then transforming them with what you call distortions. Can you share about the faith connection to these works?
It’s evolved since I started painting in 1996. This was the same year when I became a Christian. During that time, I thought to myself, if I am going to die anyway, I might as well go for it! “Going for it” meant trying different artistic styles and expressions and seeing what worked. Soon thereafter, unexpected life challenges arose, and I began to struggle with major depression. God used my artistic practice to speak to me about who he was, how he felt about me, and to heal me emotionally. Each piece in that era was a step out of depression.
When I recovered, the paintings became conversations preventing me from going back. The process of painting was more important than the final image. The process showed me that God saw the beauty in me. He was not wanting me to be perfect. He was wanting me to accept His love and then love others like He wanted me to.
Can you tell us about your most recent paintings that are honoring specific individuals?
My art is a personal response to the everyday people who advocate for change and reform, especially in the U.S. criminal justice system. As I watched the protests unfold after George Floyd’s murder, I could not help but be influenced by what I saw. Multiple races & ethnicities fighting for the equality of African Americans. Many have responded with compassion, understanding, and most importantly, action. Every piece is a tribute to those who acted and showed compassion since May of 2020.
I was moved. In response I felt like my voice had value, my life had value. I felt listened to. Because of their choice to protest I choose to honor the people who fought for the equality by painting their portraits. In the tradition of western art the halo is an iconic element that creates value in the eyes of the viewer. But in actuality, it is the individual that has value. The halo is visual representation of the value the individuals already have. The work also stands in tribute to those who suffer from the impact of racism and prejudice in this country every day. In the imagery, I focus on showing the importance of every individual.
It seems your work responds to what’s happening in our communities. How do you see the ideal relationship between an artist the community?
For me, the ideal relationship between the artist of faith and surrounding community is to see growth. There are two ways to grow: first, by being in a community of artists and around people who have more expertise than yourself. I am particularly passionate about helping others improve their skills and have been teaching people art for almost 20 years. The other way to grow is for the artist to be sincere in their art to engage with audience. Art has been a bridge of understanding since its invention. It is a way to speak about God’s true nature. Whether it’s painting or motion picture, art is a way to express the emotions of the artist and messages that words alone cannot.
What are you looking forward to doing with the community of artists at Saddleback?
My hope is to help artists improve their art making. I’d like to have classes that would meet weekly to discuss our work and give constructive feedback. In Exodus 31, the LORD speaks to Moses, saying, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.”
God gifts knowledge of workmanship and the craft of art making is important. I would like to give my knowledge and skill to others especially to those without access or means to practice art otherwise. Our class could culminate in an art show at Saddleback.
Eric Leonard Jones lives in Santa Ana and you will often see him with his young daughter, Aurora. Come and visit Eric in his Studio space in the CoCreate Arts Center at Saddleback in 2023 and see what he’s working on.