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ARTIST PROFILE: She found her calling in the renaissance artists

Posted on July 29, 2020 at 3:00 PM by Quinn Vandenberg

The Renaissance individuals, as they are widely known, are experts and masters in a wide array of fields. DaVinci maintained his expertise for portraits and engineering; Michelangelo had a capacity for religious depictions and architecture. This variety and skill are emulated in Iowa State University’s College of Design’s professor, Brenda Jones. Jones has worked in a variety of media including sculpture, mosaics, and pastel both dry and wet. Her expression will only be limited by the way she feels with regards to the world around her.

Jones’s passion for art is traced back to several years of her childhood spent abroad in Italy. She discovered the works of the renaissance artists and found a calling. “Michelangelo blew me away when I was a kid,” said Jones. “Mary and Christ at the Vatican were one of the most beautiful pieces I had seen in my life. It was so touching. I’m seven years old looking at this lady with such pride and the son so beaten down.” Looking at her art today, these influences are ever apparent. Jones’s work is largely figurative, depicting people, their faces and forms in a way that encapsulates solemn emotion revealing a deep level of humanity. “With me, it is the subject matter. It is usually figurative. It is what happening in my world. It’s what I see and what I feel,” says Jones.

At Iowa State University, Jones works to bridge a gap between the art of Rome and the life of Iowa’s students through a study abroad program. Jones and her students travel across Italy to absorb the culmination of centuries or progress in painting and architecture. Jones says every piece in a composition is deliberate while providing something to an ultimate composition, no addition to a work of art must be ignored or written off by a viewer and, likewise, the viewer should never feel like something is missing. In order to aid students in their research, she encourages them to find an artist that speaks to them on a personal level and to find what works in their art, to truly understand what makes it great and then make it their own   “You learn, you go, and you find something inside of you. [Your art] has to be about you.” “They need be able to create from within, and not be afraid to do it.” Jones and her students travel across Europe to museums and churches. They look closely at mosaics and paintings, delving into what makes a work of art great.

The product of these artistic pilgrimages takes the form of a personalized altered book. These artistic books complete and focused works of art in their own regards. They chronicle each students voyage and inspiration in mediums be it decaling or drawing. “The students have to come up with an artist, pick one color, and move through the artistic process with the pages, and they can add what they need to say and that’s important. It’s their mapping.” The digital era has led to a saturation of colors and tools artists have at their disposal. Jones implores each individual to find a color that means something to them and bring it into his or her work. In doing this, Jones is actively generating a form a visual literacy amongst her disciples. She has them take on problem solving and look at expression from every angle and aspect to generate something whole in the pages of a bound book. “Altered books are a work of art, like a painting or sculpture. But it also gives the students balance.” says Jones. “The students will understand about composition, and they will understand about form and about mapping their time in a country using this process.”

Jones will be entering her 34th year at Iowa State University next August, and her impressive catalogue of art includes several works in the collection of University Museums and grand panels at the Ruan Center in Des Moines. Considering these accomplishments, she is still quick to bring up the artistic stimulation of students as one of her job’s greatest rewards. “Watching the students go to Rome and to watch them grow intellectually. It’s a treat,” says Jones. She encourages students from all fields of study to view art as a discipline for problem solving and a way to confront tasks with the tools at hand and make things work. “If you want to be an architect, be an architect. If you want to be a creative writer, be a creative writer. Who cares if you understand what it means to be a human being? And art gives you that.”

IMAGE ABOVE: Dean Helen LeBaron Hilton, College of Home Economics 1952-1975, 1999 by Brenda Jones. Commissioned by and gift of the Family and Consumer Sciences Development Fund. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U99.6

IMAGE BELOW LEFT: Brenda Jones, Professor of Art and Visual Culture (Drawing/Painting). Image used with permission from Inside Iowa State.

IMAGE BELOW RIGHT: Brenda Jones created a number of cover images for ISCORE - the Thomas Hill Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity. is the university’s local initiative designed to provide an ongoing platform of sharing and applying new knowledge through presentations and workshops. The conference supports the university’s mission to “create, share, and apply knowledge…and make Iowa and the world a better place.” 2020 was their 20th anniversary event. 

ISCORE, c. 1999 by Brenda Jones. Gift of the artist in honor of Tom Hill, Vice President for Student Affairs, ISU. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2012.57

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