Review Me: Charles Jones: Ultra-Realism Abstraction
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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Charles Jones: Ultra-Realism Abstraction

Charles, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions in this interview. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

I have always been a plant and flower person. I have gardened and kept indoor plants since my preteen years. I was introduced to photography in 8th grade and did casual photography for many years. In my thirties, I started getting more serious about photography as well as wildflower identification. While living in the Mojave Desert there was a “bloom of the century” and I identified about 100 different flowers and documented another 50 or so that I couldn’t identify. Of course, this included photographs. Thus began my focus on how to take pictures of flowers. As I started thinking about retiring, I realized I wanted to produce photographs that truly capture the inner beauty of flowers in a way people don’t ordinarily see. This led me to study photographic techniques and ultimately to macro photography and the use of focus stacking.

It seems like you’ve done so much improvisation in your career. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

Having had a successful career as a mathematician, I am in an unusual position where I am not financially dependent on my photography. For the most part, this allows me to produce art that satisfies my personal aesthetic. Also, I have only developed my art to the point where I feel the quality is good enough to display it in the last four years or so. Thus, there really hasn’t been time for me to go through a period of doubt. However, I have come to realize that the photographs that get the most attention are not always what I consider my best pieces. This causes some artistic tension in my creative process since I have a strong desire to have my work viewed and realize that public and professional recognition is necessary to obtain a wide audience.

We’d like to know how an artistic day of Charles goes on. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

I am always looking for new flowers to photograph wherever I go. This includes walking and hiking and visiting gardens – public, friends, and my own. When I find a flower of interest I’ll bring it back to my studio and start photographing it. A specific technique I use is keeping flowers on my kitchen table and watching them progress through the entire process of opening, closing, and drying. I have come to realize that the visual nature of flowers can change dramatically during this process. In particular, dried, semi-dried, and sometimes wilted, flowers present very interesting combinations of shape, color, and texture. Thus, rather than a daily routine, I have to take my photographs at the appropriate moment of this progression. Due to my use of focus stacking, there is, of course, a great deal of processing which I do as I have time and inclination.

Now, Please take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork? Where does an artwork begin for you?

My art always starts with a flower or plant. As a macro photographer, this involves looking very closely to find an image I like. The next step is to put the flower on a “third hand” which provides six degrees of freedom so that I can position the flower exactly at the right angle. Focus stacking combines multiple pictures at different focal distances into a single photograph. Most of my pictures are 100 or more combined photos. I usually spend a few hours taking multiple multi-picture pictures and then process them through the stacking software (which sometimes takes overnight.) I then do some manipulation in the stacking software and final production using photo editing software. Because of the processing time and the progression of the flowers, I sometimes use several flowers to get the final picture – and sometimes I have to compromise with what I was able to get when the flower was ready.

Your art path constantly reminds us it takes a lot of effort to make vivid and remarkable art. Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

I strive to make every photograph unique. This is aided by the macro nature of my work. Most of my pictures have a breadth of view in the range of 1/8 to 1 inch. Flowers can be very different in structure at this scale. In one sense, I try not to do series that are just variations on a theme – again, this is aided by the different structures of different flowers. However, in the sense that flowers have common parts – petals, stamens, pistils, etc. – there is, at least, this commonality. More generally, my objective is to produce surreal and abstract images through ultra-realism. This last is implemented through focus stacking which most often creates photos that are sharply in focus throughout the entire picture. The use of macro photography enables showing aspects of flowers that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Further, I focus on creating a sense of awe and wonder more than other emotions.

To convey the message to the viewers, artists use various methods such as giving titles or general or detailed descriptions, and sometimes they leave this perception to the viewers. Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

I usually provide an interpretation of my work by providing titles. This is often motivated by my surreal objective. I like to invoke an image other than the flower itself. I also always write up a short description for each final photograph. This can include aspects of where I found the flower, unusual aspects of the image, or the process I used to create it. I also document the flower species (including the Latin name if I can.) When I exhibit my preference is to have a plaque that provides my description, the breadth of the field, the magnification, the number of stacked photos, and a thumbnail picture of the entire flower.

In fact, what you give to the viewers is like raw materials and leave the final product to themselves and their searching mind to get something beyond a picture of a flower or plant, and finally, you are motivated by the result. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

My inspiration always starts with the flower or plant itself. A common method is for me to keep flowers on my kitchen table and watch them progress looking for an interesting image. I am also often inspired when I first see a flower or plant and start thinking about what it may look like under magnification. There are also times when I find an image during the photographic session that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. This is partly due to the smallness of the subject and partly due to the nature of focus stacking. It takes some practice to envision what the final stacked image will look like and sometimes it is quite surprising what is generated. Of course, there is always a surreal inspirational background looking for implied imagery. This is influenced by my interest in science fiction and fantasy as well as my artistic influences.

And now regarding the subjects, how do you select your artworks subjects? Where they come from?

At the basic level, my subjects are almost always flowers or plants. But at the macro level, and within each flower, and within the realm of surrealism and abstraction, the concept of “subject” seems unproductive to me. I am more interested in shapes, colors, and textures that combine into a visual image that explicitly does not invoke an image of the whole flower or plant itself. My “subjects” are found by diving into individual flowers.

Artists will always be remembered because of the kind of content they put out via their art to encourage people to move toward a particular style or even a unique vision. Are there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?

Perhaps it is arrogant of me, but I hope to be remembered for having developed a new and distinct artistic style. I’ve visited art museums around the world and have never seen anything like what I create. I have also yet to have anyone suggest that my work looks like someone else’s. Further, I have only been seriously engaged in my art for well less than a decade. I hope that I have not created my magnum opus yet. Having said this, examples of my art that exemplify my artistic objective include: Space Turtle, Parched, I See You, Underwater Swan, and Dancing On Blue Flames. All of these are relatively unrecognizable as the base flower and they invoke surreal images. They also have the combination of shape, color, and texture I look for. In particular, Space Turtle and Parched invoke a science fiction-type alien-ness.

In Surrounded by Flame and Spiral Begonia, we can enjoy the magnificent ultra-realism and achieve the depth of vision and science combination, as well. Charles, let’s talk about the influence and what your art influences are. Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?

My two main artistic influences are Georgie O’Keeffe and Dr. Seuss. Although I have progressed to more abstract images, my earlier images are somewhat comparable to O’Keefe’s work. The influence of Dr. Seuss seems to be more recognized by people when I point it out. Other influences include Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali. To a lesser extent, I am influenced by M.C. Escher. Although I do not know specific artists’ names or the name of the style, there is a classical style of painting flower arrangements that are exceptionally realistic to the point of including browning leaves and insects. This influenced my desire for ultra-realism. I am also inspired by mathematics, science, science fiction, and fantasy. It is perhaps worth noting that, while I pursue surreal images, I am not influenced by the political nature of the Surrealist Manifesto.

If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

For the most part, I am not that interested in meeting celebrities so this is a hard question for me. Realistically, of the people I listed, I’d probably be most interested in meeting M. C. Escher, but that’s more from a mathematical rather than artistic perspective because I would enjoy talking about tessellations with him. Artistically, and from a human experience point of view, Georgia O’Keeffe would probably be my choice. I am attracted to strong and competent women and Georgia meets the bill. When asked about the idea of meeting someone, I generally envision sitting around having a lengthy discussion rather than some brief celebrity-type encounter. As such, I would hope to find topics of mutual interest and pursue them rather than coming to the encounter with specific questions.

Due to the uniqueness of your art, our readers are waiting for your future works. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

I don’t specifically plan out projects. My work is inspired by the flowers I find. The main type of project I might engage in would be to travel someplace in search of local flowers. Tropical rainforests would be my first choice. Because of my creative method, this would require setting up my studio and spending weeks at a location. I don’t have the financial ability to do this.

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