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Interview between Russell Elden, Justis Jones and Janice...

JudithWhere do you live?

I live in Plano, TX, a large, growing suburb of Dallas.

What is your education?

I have both a BA and MA in English; Master of Divinity in Theology, 1/2 of MSW; some PhD work. Schools attended and dates follow respectively: University of Maryland, College Park, with BA English, 1971; George Mason University, Fairfax, VA with MA English, 1982; Master of Divinity from Wesley Theo. Seminary at American University in Wash, DC., in 1984; MSW work at The University of Pennsylvania in 1992; some PhD work in ethics at Temple University in Philadelphia and some in aesthetics at University of Texas at Dallas.

You have a diverse and accomplished educational background. Was there an event in your life which made you decide to concentrate on your artistic efforts?

After teaching at the community college where I was also taking art classes, I realized that the still untaxed $10 that I was making per hour (teaching writing intensive courses--which included working with each student individually!) was not ethically fair to me which made me feel angry (what's new) at the system which uses lots and lots of adjuncts, and I realized that I was far more intellectually stimulated by solving the problems in art. Plus I can "say" whatever I want and don't have to enter into dialogue with the viewer. I had become very tired of reading student papers which defended anti-abortion with quotations from the bible, for example.

Lot's DaughtersSo, after a long career of teaching/ministry, I gave myself a birthday present and became a full-time artist!

What is it about teaching that you enjoy the most?

I love working/teaching people; the most amazing thing is that people already know lots; it's great fun as a teacher to help students organize what they know and to see the lights come on when they realize how interdependent events, etc. are.

What do you want to say with your art?

I want my art to say that we are interdependent; that underneath it all, we are all vulnerable and share many of the same problems, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses. We are the human family.

Are you married?

I am married to a wonderful man who is not afraid to let me paint!

Have you a family? Tell us about them.

My family is wonderful and includes those of my blood and those who are related by kinship. Our home is open to all who do not intend destruction. Obviously, our family is varied, large, sometimes happy, sometimes not, but ours.Debra

Are there other artists in your family?

My daughter, Jordan Conte Riviello, is a painter; my son-in-law, Jay Riviello, is a glass blower who has had--among many other honors--the opportunity to have a scholarship at Pilchuck to study with Dale Chihuly's group.

How does your family feel about your art?

My family supports my art (if they didn't, I guess I'd have to find another family to do so!)

What medium do you work in?

I work in acrylics and mixed media; also oils.

How do you select your subject matter?

Judith 2Selection of subject matter (nudes) comes from the religious/ethical idea that we are all the same. Unfortunately, clothes do "make" the man and, unless we are like the children who knew very well that the emperor had no clothes, we make assumptions about people and their humanity (or lack of it) because of what we see instead of what we know. Unless ethical values are applied in our world, people starve, go without homes, get fewer opportunities, etc. I believe that this happens because those that have the threads make/cast judgements about those who don't have the threads or those who like/wear different threads! So my understanding of how God wants me to treat my world, myself, and those in it affects each idea that I have for a series. All of us come into the world without much--perhaps a loving family if we are lucky--and leave pretty much the same way. So it is up to each of us to care for the other--not in a sick way, but in a real way that makes the infrastructure of our society stronger, fairer, more ethical.

What has been the response to your art?

Actually, I have now sold two of my Hebrew Women, which somehow surprises me since I live in a very conservative, Christian fundamentalist area. (ha ha--there are more of us moving in, though!) I, of course, am delighted and encouraged. People to this point at least understand what I am trying to say.

What would you say are your greatest Artistic influences?

Traveling to Europe and just seeing the art everywhere influenced me, but especially my travels to Italy, as I am Italian (both sides and where there is still family!) and feel linked--somehow--to the very soil. Also seeing the works of women masters--some--finally!Rahab 1

What is your best source of artistic inspiration?

What I see as my humanity and my relationship to God and to others is my inspiration. How do we treat each other? Underneath the "clothes" we are all humans... how do we treat each other as humans? There are daily stories about this as well as classical stories.

Name five favorite artists from 1 to 5, with #1 being your favorite.

  1. Artemisia Gentileschi
  2. Alice Neel
  3. Lois Mailou Jones
  4. Matisses' drawings rather than paintings
  5. Kathy Kollowitz

In your series, "The Greek," you depict male to male, homosexual love. What is your reasoning for this and critical response?

I have just begun this series. It took me a long, long time to figure out what/how to do this. I am painting on gallery wrapped stretchers that I have made--they in themselves are luscious. I have put modeling paste on them so that each panel, stretcher looks like a wall. Each figure(s) is made of several of these geometrically precise stretchers which I am making to emphasize the gestural directions of the model.

Tamar 2Why Greek love?

The men who made up the philosophies about philosophy, math, good government, correct behavior, good citizenship, excellent art, poetry, prose, etc. preferred male company to female company. The only reason to marry and beget children was to leave property for the future. The word "homosexual" did not enter most languages as a word until the Americans began to use it while watching men in the civil war prisoner of war camps. The male doctors, tending to the wounded, dying, etc., noticed that even while "regular" guys would greet each other with hugs, kisses, some "irregular" guys would continue the relationship.

So even though gay men were noticed--Lord Byron, Von Wilhelm, etc.--and were not (perhaps) invited into polite society and were perhaps shocking to the mainstream (what with exotic costumes), they were not damned as they are in today's fundamentalist society.

Interesting to note: many of my artists friends are still discussing the issue of frontal nudity that I plan to use in some of my pictures. They feel that it may become pornographic. Since I don't feel that way, I will paint some of my nudes frontally.

I have just about completed my first canvas due to my experimentation, etc. So far, I am delighted!

I am particularly curious about your musical tastes. Who are your favorite musical artists or singers?Tamar

My favorite musicians are mainly jazz musicians--Theolonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, jazz fusionists, etc. Bonnie Rait, Roberta Flack, Billie Holliday and others of her era. Big Band music of the 40's.

Do you listen to music while painting and if so, is there a particular album, CD or audio tape?

I listen to audio books when painting--the lyricism of some audio books is fabulous; "The God of Small Things," "Beloved," etc. Keeps my verbal/criticizing mind active and away from my painting.

How do you manage your time? You appear to be very busy with teaching, book binding and Motherhood. How do you find time for your family and to relax? Is your time spent painting a form of relaxation?

Manage time....Bookbinding and painting are ways to relax and to connect to my world through my art--I can say a myriad of things without one word! My husband is a traveling consultant, often in a different city each week. Our children are on the east coast and a "grown" up (I know I remember thinking that I was grown up when I was 24! YIKES!) Making art and my daily life, especially on weekends with family, are one and the same. While David putters around the house on weekends, I putter in the studio. Or my friends and I gather in the studio one day each week and share info. Right now, my life is of one thing--art and relationships.....without art, I couldn't relate to my family and friends.

DavidWhat has been the critical response to your portraying biblical figures as contemporary nudes?

The response to the portrayal of Hebrew Women as contemporary nudes was better than I expected! I even sold two paintings! However, each woman's story was hung near her on the wall. Funny, though, am not sure that people understood that these were contemporary paintings of biblical figures much like the medievalists didn't think that dressing the biblical figures in clothes of the day was contemporary.

Dallas (Texas), is generally considered a conservative town. What was the public response to your recent display at Gallery 500X of "David Contemplating Bethsheba?"

Public Response to "David Contemplating Bethsheba!" Wow! I was very delighted that the gallery (500X) hung this painting in the middle of the wall of a small room. As you entered the room you saw this picture first! So I was greatly pleased and people liked the shapes and colors. Two of my teachers saw the exhibit and said that the picture was excellently placed. However, no one bought it--sigh.

What was the response at the November 14th opening of your "Hebrew Women" series at Collin County Community College Galleria?

I was delighted by the response to my opening of the "Hebrew Women" series. People I didn't know well, came! The Plano section of the "Dallas Morning News" even carried a little blurb saying that this show was well done and should be viewed!Bathsheba --Bottom

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

I would live right where I am. The weather is great; our house beautiful, my family and friends nearby.

Finally, if you had three wishes granted, what would they be?

Peace, health, wholeness to the earth and to all who move on it... shalom.

Go to Janice's Biography and Gallery.
Go to Janice's Artist Statement.
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