Artist Statement: "Mine is a quiet explorations quest for new meanings in color, texture and design. Even though I sometimes portray scenes of poor and struggling people, it is a great joy to paint."
For more than fifty years, Lois Mailou Jones has enjoyed a
consistently successful career as a painter, teacher, book illustrator,
and textile designer. Her art spans three continents: North
America, Europe, and Africa, and she has been represented in
more than seventy group shows and mounted twenty one-woman exhibitions
In 1937 Jones received a General Education Board Foreign Fellowship to study in France. She went to Paris in 1937 where she studied painting at the Academie Julian, lived among the French, learned to speak French fluently, and painted views of Paris and surrounding areas.
Since her first trip to France, Jones has felt a spiritual affinity for the French people and their nation. She explains that France provided her with the first feeling of absolute freedom to live and eat wherever she chose. Her admiration for France and its people was so profound that she returned to Paris each year, except during World War II, for more than twenty years after her first trip.
In 1952, a book of more than one hundred reproductions of her French paintings, Lois Mailou Jones Peintures 1937-1951, was published in Paris. Jones was the only African-American female painter of the 1930's and 1940's to achieve fame abroad, and the earliest whose subjects extend beyond the realm of portraiture.
Jones's third period was also formed outside the United States in Haiti where she discovered a second spiritual home. She first went to the capital, Port-au-Prince, in 1954 when the Haitian government invited her to visit and paint the country's landscape and its people. The trip lasted ten weeks and in that time Jones developed a love for Haiti's warm climate, its beautiful scenery, and its colorful, deeply religious people. She also conducted painting classes at the Centre d'Art and the Foyer des Artes Plastiques. In recognition, the government of Haiti made her a chevalier of the National Order of Honor and Merit.
Haiti acquired even more meaning for Jones following her marriage to Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel, a prominent Haitian artist. Jones and Pierre-Noel first met in 1934 when they were graduate students at Columbia University. For almost twenty years they corresponded before they eventually married in the south of France in 1953. Jones and her husband lived in Washington, D.C., Martha's Vineyard, and in Pierre-Noel's hometown, Port-au-Prince. They had no children. His death in 1982 ended their twenty-nine year marriage.
Jones's numerous oils and watercolors inspired by Haiti are probably her most widely known works. In them her affinity for bright colors, her under personal standing of Cubism's basic principles, and her search for a distinctly style reached an apogee.
Jones's return to African themes in her work of the past several decades coincided with the black expressionistic movement in the United States during the 1960s. Skillfully integrating aspects of African masks, figures, and textiles into her vibrant paintings, Jones continues to produce exciting new works at an astonishing rate of speed, even in her late eighties.
In 1945 James Lane, curator of painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, said of Jones's work, "God's gift to Lois Jones is a beautiful sense of color. Like a singer who always sings true, this well-trained painter-and she has studied under Philip Hale, Jonas Lie, and the Academie Julian-shows true harmony in her oils. But that is not God's only gift: He has given her a sense of structure and design (which she uses in her textile patterns) that carries the color to victory, for unorganized color alone could not possibly do the trick. Her work, from her earliest still lifes and her prize-winning portrait French Mother, has, one sees, been responsive to light and the joyousness of light, but where the fine cityscapes of her Paris period were charming and gray, the landscapes, the portraits, and the still lifes from Martha's Vineyard are clarion and colorful. It is all, in the best sense of the word, happy art."
It is extraordinary that nearly fifty years later, Jones's
paintings, currently inspired by African themes, are still highly
reflective of Lane's description.