Have Paint, Will Travel

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Raleigh artist, Chris Jones, finds beauty and inspiration in the Hill City

In the early 19th century, French painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes wrote a treatise entitled Reflections and Advice to a Student on Painting, Particularly on Landscape where he encouraged fellow artists to paint “en plein air”, or to paint landscapes while in the landscape. The act of immersing oneself in the elements, and painting the lines, light, and contrast exactly as they were rather than exactly as memory served, became the backbone of French landscape painting transforming from minor genre to primary art form as the 19th century progressed.

Today, artists around the globe still choose to paint en plein air—opting for mobile canvases and ever-changing environments as a way to keep their perspectives fresh and inspired. Chris Jones, a Raleigh-based artist, is one of them.

Chris Jones paints in Lynchburg virginia

Chris Jones paints en plein air on Grace Street. Photo by Ashlee Glen.

A renaissance man of sorts, Jones has always been a creator.

“When I was 8 or 9 years old, there was a guy on TV named Jon Gnagy [host of the TV series You Are an Artist and Learn to Draw],” he explained. “He would draw something and show how a shadow might follow the contour of the land. It was all black and white TV back then, but he was drawing with charcoal so it didn’t matter. I ordered his book, which was on sale, and I devoured it. I drew everything in it and learned a lot about composition and perspective.”

Jones continued to pursue art through adolescence and into high school, when he became interested in photography, architecture, and design. After graduating high school, he began pursuing a degree in architecture and design from NC State University’s College of Design while supplying photography to local ad agencies.

“When I got to College, though, I realized it was design and art that I wanted, rather than architecture,” he remembered. “The closest art school was in Chapel Hill, so I took a semester there. It was a young program at the time, so I went on to look at Baltimore College of Art and California Institute of Art. Somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked a bit.”

At the time, Jones was a drummer in a band—a passion that started when he was six years old and still continues to this day.

“I ended up recording two albums with a band named Glass Moon at Electric Lady Studios and then toured for two years,” he said. “We had recorded in the West Village of New York, and I loved the city, so I ended up moving to New York after the tour was over. I left design school and decided to pursue photography full-time instead.”

Within six months in New York, Jones was getting work as a location photographer—and that work continued for the next 25 or so years.

“When I wasn’t traveling on assignment, I would hang out with artists and friends, and I would draw or paint on and off throughout those years. After my wife and I raised our children, we retired and moved to the west coast. I moved back to Raleigh in 2019, and when COVID hit, I put my camera down, picked up a paintbrush again, and started painting everyday. Now I have a stack of paintings that I don’t know what to do with,” he laughed.

Photo by Ashlee Glen

In a journey that may seem all too familiar to artists—one where passions are pursued and given the space to transform—Jones’s creative life has been a whimsical dance between music, photography, and painting. Each medium has offered a unique chance to view life in just a slightly different way.

“When COVID hit, there was this existential fear that we all had of, ‘What can I touch? Am I going to die? How many years do I have left to do what I’m doing?’” he explained. “I had already done photography and I had played drums all my life. I wanted to do painting and fine art. That was the third leg of my desires as a child, and COVID allowed me to explore it because I was at home.”

Now, Jones has been painting almost daily for over two years. He leverages his early love for architecture and design, and explores composition, light, shadows, and intensity of colors in architectural spaces in and around his home base of Raleigh.

Photo by Ashlee Glen

“Raleigh is a very happening place that’s growing very fast,” he said. “Part of my job as an artist is to document that. I like drawing and painting buildings. Because of the architectural influence I had as a kid, I love seeing how Raleigh is growing and trying to paint that.”

But Jones’s exploration of architectural beauty and growing cities doesn’t stop in Raleigh. Jones recently traveled to Lynchburg and found inspiration.

“When I drove to Lynchburg, I drove down Grace Street by mistake,” Jones explained. “As I drove down Grace Street, I immediately saw two scenes that begged to be painted—the first was the historic Fire Station No. 2 building and the second was a gorgeous brick building where you could see where the facade had been at one point. When I have that instant strike, it says to me, ‘Let’s see if I can paint it.’ The same happened on Church Street. I could have easily painted there for two weeks.”

Engine Company Number 2- 24x24 oil on panel

Engine Company Number 2- 24×24 oil on panel

Church Street- 11×14 oil on paper

Old Facade on Grove Street- 16×20 oil on panel

With his canvas and paint tools in tow, Jones stopped and painted the two Grace Street buildings en plein air.

“I was struck by [the Fire Station No. 2 building]because of the way the light hit it, plus it was beautifully designed in the first place,” Jones recounted. “I had this fantastic feeling of having been there in the day when it was being used, and seeing fire trucks come out of the door.”

Jones spent an afternoon getting the architectural lines and sunlight reflecting off the fire station just right before returning back home to Raleigh, but not before Lynchburg had a chance to leave an impression on him.

“Lynchburg is going through a renaissance of sorts, it seems,” he said. “I loved to see all of the hip looking youngsters walking around. If I didn’t love living in Raleigh, I’d be hard pressed not to want to move to Lynchburg.”

To see more of Chris Jones’s art, visit his portfolio at www.chrisjonespaints.com and find him on Instagram at @chrisjonespaints. He is currently accepting commissions, and his Lynchburg paintings are available for purchase.

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