Whitehot Magazine

Zachary Dean Jones’s Earthworks

Zachary Dean Jones, untitled, mixed media, 30 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Zachary Dean Jones, Zak Burgess, and Joe Kavalec

Marcia Evans Gallery

May 2 through June 27, 2021 


Sourcing charcoal from his fire pit and mixing naturally-derived-pigment paint with creek water, artist Zachary Dean Jones is guided by the local climate and natural biome of his residence in Athens, Ohio. Jones’s earthworks, unsuspecting initially as such, diligently accrue sprigs and, occasionally, wandering insects, according to an intuitive process in collaboration with the elements. Beyond expressionistic texture, these paintings reproduce a native environment not dissimilar from the gallery-ready documentation of immovable land art pieces. Perhaps truer as movable earthworks, and always created outside, they reassemble a lasting and transformational field on the canvas to be eventually displayed indoors. The most challenging aspect, Jones tells me, is determining when a piece is well-weathered and ready to be permanently paused in time via adhesive spray; in this moment, the artist seeks rare feedback from the field surround. 

Part Anselm Kiefer, part hale nest, Jones’s work highlights a distinctive generosity of expression and commitment to an agrestal process. Kiefer’s tendency toward the historically abject is countered by Jones’s belief in phenomena like frost shadows as acting agents, lucid collaborators, of beauty, grace, and flux. Even so, works like those of Kiefer’s Palmsonntag (2006) series bear an unmistakable resemblance to the tall, coarse windows constructed by Jones, stretching from root to cloud. Both artists combine painting and sculpture, utilize found materials and narrow canvases, and prioritize texture by way of flora and weather.  

Zachary Dean Jones, fireflies, mixed media, 84 x 28 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Another contemporary artist working in a similarly outdoorsy range is Andy Goldsworthy, credited as the founder of modern rock balancing. Of his Wall commissioned by Storm King, one of several permanent installations, Goldsworthy writes, “The intention is not just to make a line, but to draw the change, movement, growth and decay that flow through a place." Jones works through a similar goal, continuously informed by the preexisting grain of his surroundings. 

The process documentation of Goldsworthy’s ephemeral sculptures, like his bare-handed icicle works, remind me especially of the harshness of process that Jones describes working outdoors in the extreme conditions of winter and summer. In an Instagram studio visit posted on December 23, 2020, Jones scrapes ice from a debris-laden snowman torso into a bucket, then tosses it at a mossy canvas. On January 26, 2021, a walk to the creek yields natural water and sediment for a speckled brushstroke under-layer. (In another video, Jones's young daughter, a gifted art viewer, brilliantly describes a piece as fish watching a red sunrise). A serious closeness to the environment is cultivated at each stage of Jones’s process and, as with all land art, a glimpse into the process immensely informs the final product.  

Zachary Dean Jones, untitled, mixed media, 30 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Color in this work can simply and with subtle radiance be described as true. In both solar works, Jones positions a grassy orb in the midst of wheat-gold and geranium-pink, respectively. The sun changes points in the sky between the two, confirming further the organic individuality of each work. Slight tonal shifts and blotting in the background deepen the perspective. In both, a circle is the result of a pile of line, doubling down on Goldsworthy’s statement by abstracting the energized quality of rays into lines. In Fireflies, Jones simulates low-flying fireflies by way of glowing dandelions or forsythia lacing through a dusky, clotted paint application. In an untitled work, Jones layers a dark lavender over gray to create a sky or body of water seen over a flaxen ground.  

Jones’s meditative and expert application of local botanical knowledge to painting, combined with the rich Appalachian foothills of his home studio, yield tactile works that invite the seasons and all of their challenging and sublime activity inside. The artist will be showing paintings in a solo exhibition at The Dairy Barn Art Center in October 2022; admiring viewers will be counting the turns of season until then. WM

Cori Hutchinson

Cori Hutchinson is a writer living in Brooklyn.

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