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Expressing Black experience through color and shapes: Rachel Jones

A Slow Teething, 2020

Rachel Jones

Oil pastel and oil stick on canvas

41 x 95 in

Rachel Jones (b. 1991) is a British artist whose colorful, expressive work channels her emotions, which are influenced by a study of Black experience and the desire to belong.

Jones’ 2020 work A Slow Teething headlined the Sotheby’s The Now Evening auction, which took place on March 2nd. The work sold for over 600K pounds ($800K), 10x its estimate of 60K pounds. Her first institutional solo show is currently on view at the Chisenhale Gallery in London, through June 12, 2022.

“I am very interested in placing my history and my relationship to painting within the work. It’s really meaningful to have people interrogate those ideas and to think about them. There have been so many Black intellectual writers and poets who have talked about these things for such a long time, and it’s great to be able to feel as if I’m contributing to that conversation.”

Rachel Jones was born in the Whitechapel neighborhood of East End London. Her parents were immigrants: her mother from Jamaica, father from Barbados. The family later moved to Essex, where Jones grew up. As a child, Jones loved to draw and had early ambitions to be a cartoon artist. She changed her focus to fine art after a summer program in high school. She attended Glasgow School of Art and graduated with a BFA.

In 2016, Jones earned a residency at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art in Bermuda. Away from London, Jones had a heightened sense of the otherness she felt as a Black woman in many of her environments. She longed for a deeper sense of community, belonging and authentic expression. Jones found guidance in the writings of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Hilton Als, African Americans who explore different facets of the Black experience in the United States. They detail the challenges, but also the joy and unique characteristics forged by that experience. These writings had a profound impact on Jones, and she decided that she would use her practice to “add to the conversation” centering it around an exploration of the inner lives of Black people, particularly in Western societies.


Rachel Jones

Oil pastel, oil stick on canvas

98 x 63 in

After Bermuda, Jones returned to London where she enrolled in a Master’s program at the Royal Academy of Arts. There, her style moved more abstract in an attempt to express emotions through colors and shapes versus figures. “Every painting pretty much involves all of the colors on the spectrum”. She also discovered her love for oil pastels. Originally invented for Picasso in 1949, oil pastels provide a more immediate way of transferring color to a surface. The color is raw, intense and maintains its characteristics even when layered. Jones found that she was able to work faster and more precisely than with paints and brushes.

Jones works intuitively, describing her process as “free as possible.” She plays music while she creates, but only CDs from beginning to end to limit distractions. Jones’ work delicately balances weighty subjects with sense of joy and playfulness. While her work is largely abstract, she uses the mouth as a recurring motif to illustrate a range of concepts from political expression to sexuality.

In addition to being one of today’s most in-demand contemporary artists, Jones is a budding teacher. She recently finished a teaching qualification and plans to teach as a supplement to her practice. “Teachers have a social responsibility, and I have a social-justice lens to my art practice. It’s so important and beneficial for students to have a person of colour teaching them. I want to be a representative for them.”

Rachel Jones talks about her love for oil pastels:


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