Sal Jones  Interview

Interview by Javier Melian for

Portraits Of Humanization by Javier Melian (@jmelianuk)


Sal Jones rescues images, de-contextualizes them and transforms them into vessels for the viewer to create a new identity for the subject. She thinks her portraits are ‘character studies’ as the intention is to capture the action of the expression. This is really difficult to achieve in real life situations hence her recent work uses photograms of foreign TV series that she crops and re-edits until instants of non self-consciousness are found. Gestural brush marks and the heightened use of colour add an emotional and expressive dynamic to the work. The viewer gets the glimpse into the character portrayed, hinting that it is part of something else hence leaving up to him/her to create the final work. This, to me sounds like the next step in the evolution of portraiture; let me explain you why:

If we look back in time, from Pharaohs and Emperors in ancient times, portraits have always been a big ego trip about the subject. If we go back far enough, it was the elevation of status to that of a deity what prevailed. Renaissance took things a couple of notches down, predominantly portraying royals, novels and religious figures, still concentrated on hierarchy and importance of the sitter. These were totally prescriptive scenes, full of symbols and all the bells and whistles of grandeur.

Late Night Was It?
Late Night Was It?

In the 19th and early 20th century, with the –isms the portraits opened up to include the bourgeoisie and nameless models. Form lost its prominence over substance, and it was the mood and souls what mattered most, but still all about the subject. Mid-20th century pop brought ego back with iconic images and celebrities. With photography taking portraiture by storm there was simply no need to depict reality as is, although realistic and hyper realistic works continue to be popular nowadays.

Yes things have moved a long way, but still the linkage across ages has been the self-awareness and the pose. From Pythagoras to Shakespeare, the world has always been compared to a stage and people to actors that turn into their roles when observed. Very much like me in morning on my way to work, when I pass the beggar who mutters, ignore the newspaper handler, dodge the smiley Charity hustler on commission, and politely decline a free Bible (I am Christian at the end of the day). Then move away from dull faced commuters at Liverpool street station, and swipe my pass when I reach the office. I get into a packed lift where everyone is looking at bigger and brighter phones, ears covered by bigger and brighter headphones, so we don’t have to acknowledge each other anymore. I hit the floor and bang! The lights are on and it’s show time! I switch on corporate mode. If I go into fakebook it’s a different role, but a role at the end of the day, because it is being observed what triggers the change. Selfies are the latest refuge of the attention craving ego.

Paradoxical how Sal’s portraits, using ‘real’ actors playing ‘real’ roles, manage to capture ultimate moments of gestures that are non self-conscious, everyday, universal and not intended for immortalisation. Isolated, unsettling, sometimes confrontational but above all intimate, they trigger empathy in the viewer which for once forgets the stage of the world and contemplates the beautiful of an ordinary human being.

Four Minus One
Four Minus One

Sal Jones is a painter who lives and works in London. She has a BA Hons in Fine Art and has exhibited in London and across the UK. Recent and upcoming shows this year include: Discerning Eye, Mall galleries; Beep Wales International; Masters of Art International; A Conscious Identity, Espacio Gallery; Moving Scenes, solo show, gallery at Hackney Picturehouse; Face Facts, Face Fictions, solo show, London. Works are held in private collections in UK, Spain and the United States.

You Think Thats What I Want
You Think Thats What I Want

Self taught or art school?

I went to art college to study Fine Art – I started out as a painter and came out making quite dark assemblages from junk and found materials – (that may help to explain what that period of time in the North East of England was like). After several years exploring different mediums, I have returned to painting.

If you could own one work of art what would it be?

That’s a hard question to answer – I’m not sure to be honest. The responsibility may be too much for me to ‘own’ that one important piece – better to ‘share’. I’m still thinking about which one…

How would you describe your style?

I suppose it’s figurative, expressive, with gestural marks (perhaps an element of abstraction in some of the mark making).

What are your favourite places to view art?

It’s always nice to come across art in unexpected places – but in terms of art galleries then I like galleries that suit the work. I prefer an un-crowded environment so try to avoid busy times of major exhibitions. It’s important to see the work in life – get up close and personal, so anywhere where I can do that really.

Who are your favourite artists and why?

There are lots of artists whose work I like – some because of the way they use materials, others for the aesthetic qualities, the way the works makes me feel, others for the concept or subject; some I admire the skill. The painters that come to mind are: Jenny Saville, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter Cecily Brown, I like Fiona Rae’s colours. I admire the obvious ones, of course – Van Gogh, Picasso; expressionists such as: Kokoschka, Beckman, Dix. Then there are the  sculptors: Arman, Schwitters, Kiki smith, Rebecca Horn, Rodin are a few that come to mind. I love the video installation work of Bill Viola and Christain Marclay.

Usually the work that I find exciting is visually and mentally stimulating on some level and leaves you thinking or inspired once you’ve left the exhibition. I’m always open to new discoveries.

What or who inspires your art?

Anything and everything! I look for inspiration wherever I can; often the simplest things spark off an idea for a painting. I am a very visual person so it’s usually a visual source and we are bombarded with images.

Where’s your studio and what’s it like?

My studio is in Stoke Newington, London. It’s in an old listed building. The space itself is what I would describe as a traditional artists studio – with paint splattered parquet flooring, peeling walls and high ceiling with skylights. It’s a large room divided by partitions and I share it with 4 other artists – It’s a good atmosphere.

Do you have any studio rituals?

We all have boiler suits, of different colours – particularly handy in the cold weather, mine is red!

We had a ‘prawn surprise’ ritual where we hid wooden prawns in each others space for a while but that’s fizzled out somewhat (I know that’s probably not what you meant – there’s still one above the window pane in the skylight above my space – I don’t know how they got it there, but it must have been quite a tricky feet involving re-arranging the partitions and use of ladders); Other than that no personal rituals as such.

What are you working on currently?

Paintings – continuing working through ideas around expression, character interaction and dialogue, whilst experimenting with paint application, and planning for a private commission.

Where can we buy your art?

Either through me, through my website:

(Or through exhibitions where I am showing)

I also have works for sale online at

What are your ambitions?

Ambitions – mmm – I’m older and wiser enough to know that I’m not likely to change the world – Quite simply to continue to be able to make art….. and try to connect with others through that creative process.

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