At an art fair I bought a little painting, titled ‘Fade From White’.  I didn’t mean to, it just kept winking at me every time I walked past (and admittedly I walked past quite a few times).  I knew of the artist and had a few facts at my disposal to know that her career is on the up, but the real reason I invested was because it stirred memories that lifted my spirits and I wanted to take those feelings home with me.  The artist is called Katherine Jones and I met her briefly at the fair, but wanted to find out what makes her tick and whether knowing the hand that had painted my little gem would change how I felt. 

By the time I set off for south London to meet Katherine, I had lived with and contemplated my little painting every day for a few months and it continued to bring me an uplift with each glance. I found the studio in a complex of other artists’ studios – possibly a block of council offices in a previous life, with long corridors and rooms behind windowless doors – but now Katherine’s ‘office’ and her daily commute.  Inside was a light space with old Crittall windows, laid out with tables, plan chests and a big printing press, wafting turps and ink.  We talked, not only about Katherine’s inspirations, influences, roots and progress, but also about the graft, the discipline, the aloneness and the huge amount of time that goes into pursuing a creative career.  Plus the lows, the doubts, the insecurities and the cycle of emotions that ride alongside the absolute certainty that this is what she must do.  In fact, we found so much to talk about that four hours flew past until we realised we were sitting in fading daylight – “Oh where did that go!”, we laughed at the end, and continued to text names and books on the journey home, that had escaped our memories in the studio.

Her work has a lightness of touch with a twist of strangeness.  Trained as a printmaker (2001—2003: Camberwell College of Art, MA Fine Art Printmaking and 1998—2001: Cambridge School of Art, BA (hons) Fine Art Printmaking) and gaining experience in print editioning for other artists after graduating, she is probably better known, at least so far, for her own editioned, hand-pulled collagraphs.  Her subject matter has been described as referencing ‘perceptions of safety and danger’ and I can see that; the home, containers, shelters, nature, clouds are all references that we imagine seeing in the lines and shapes that make up her images and that we satisfactorily pin to this theme.  She is a mother and a protector (we discussed our children and how they have shaped our futures).  She is a cultivator and a nurturer (we talked allotments and how our mental well-being is touched by the plants, soil and sun).  She is an accidental dog owner and a custodian (neither of us want to live without the responsibility of a dog in our lives, now that we have tried).  We both care about world peace, equality and the environment, and I can understand how security matters to her, as it does to most of us, and how vulnerable we all feel in this world.  Yet sometimes the idea of describing an artist’s work in words is not enough because these ideas are huge and wide-ranging, but it is in the looking that we really comprehend the specifics.  Explaining the line of enquiry that she pursues is deliberately vague, allowing us to pin these, and our own, references onto it.  The description, Katherine says, has probably come about retrospectively when looking back over what she has done and trying to assess how, collectively, to describe her intentions.  Yet when I look at the paintings and prints scattered around the walls, across surfaces, filed in drawers and tucked into portfolios, I just somehow know they are from, and of, her.  The best thing is, she can’t really define that, she just is who she is.

When she was admitted to the Royal Academy as an Academician in 2022, “no one was more surprised than me”, she said, and is still unsure about how it happened.  New candidates are usually proposed and voted for by existing Academicians, but the candidate does not make the approach or even know about the vote, until the invitation is sent.  The Academy represents the ‘Establishment’ and is, for many of these elite artists, an enviable badge of achievement.  For Katherine it brings a reassuring endorsement from her peers and elders, some of whom she has admired for years.  It is finally an opportunity for her to look with humility on the bright side of the months spent questioning what and why she does what she does.  She is naively modest and becomingly so.  For the Royal Academy’s 2023 Summer Exhibition she curated Room V, called ‘Wishes Of Others’, which is no mean feat and I am curious to follow how this accreditation may bring new opportunities to shape her career in the future.

So how did my painting ‘Fade From White’, which she painted in 2023, come into being?  Paint has always played a role in her process; either to sketch out ideas on scraps of paper for her eyes only, or to work into a print after it has been through the press.  The luscious, inky marks that transfer from a constructed plate onto paper after being squeezed through a press, are not only repeatable but are of such special quality, that the medium is often a specialist craft chosen by makers and collectors alike.  The use of paint, she says, was always to simply add a burst of colour or a gentle softness to the printed marks. But the painting that I bought is painted on board, so no printing involved, and a prepared white board suggests it had already been defined by Katherine as the end, and not the starting point.  In a recent exhibition at Sims Reed Gallery, ‘Drop Shadows’, in St James’s, several more little paintings had been revealed (I thought a couple of them were special little gems like mine, and indeed they had already been snapped up by the time I got there) but now I see that they might be multiplying.  She even shows me two, quite large, unfinished canvases, lurking at the back of the studio – “a commission”, she says.  We discuss the missed opportunities for those musicians, artists and writers that have only ever had one real hit, and the need to push oneself for longevity, take risks and keep an open-mind about that which, in the minds of others, has already defined you.  My conclusion is that she is experimenting and pushing herself, and her little painted boards hang around on the walls of her studio while she contemplates how finished or not they are.  

I still don’t really know exactly what my painting means to Katherine or how it will fit into her future and evolving practice, and maybe she doesn’t yet either.  She mentioned that it came about as a response to time spent in the Chelsea Physic Garden, where she regularly draws (alongside a group of artists from the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers) with the medicinal plants and the billowing marquees that are there during the summer – part shelter, part nature.  Meryl Ainslie from the Rabley Drawing Centre, Wiltshire who regularly exhibits Katherine’s work explains, “until the 1970s these gardens were a living classroom to train apothecaries in the use of plants and their medicinal uses. Today the garden also hosts weddings and parties and Jones has documented the changing marquee shapes and structures as they are put up and taken down alongside the plants”.  

The body of work that resulted from her time in the garden is titled ‘The Real Sunshine of Feeling’ which is a quote taken from Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and it is obvious that Katherine is moved and influenced by literature (I have since enjoyed ‘Babette’s Feast’, a beautifully written short story by Karen Blixen about the human sacrifices made for creativity – one of Katherine’s recommendations to inspire me).  Both prints and paintings that celebrate the multifaceted nature of the Chelsea Physic Garden comprise ‘The Real Sunshine of Feeling‘ and, the catalogue informs us, is ‘underpinned by the many free associations and ideas inspired by it’.  Yet to me my painting is of somewhere else, a reminder of a memory, a spark of a revelation and it winked at me because I am who I am. Katherine Jones is everything I had hoped for in the hand behind the work.  Never meet your heroes”, we had joked, and we had both revealed stories of disappointing encounters.  In this case, though, it has definitely been a risk worth taking.

View my painting Fade from White