When I first met Tia Etu-Jones’ two years ago and saw her work I was impressed by her different choices of medium and themes which the resulting works explore. Not limiting herself to one medium and style has allowed her the freedom to create interactive sculptures, paintings, assemblages, murals and even fullyfunctioning marionettes. In her work it is not uncommon to see found objects, tree branches, twine, paint and other familiar materials used in a way that questions language, art history, memory, urban culture, nature and gender roles, among many other things. These themes and mediums weave together to create stories that allow viewers to dive into complex and self-determined interpretations while appreciating something aesthetically beautiful. Sixty sat down with the Chicago-based artist to learn more about how she got to this moment in her career.
Tempestt Hazel: Tell us a bit about your self and your artwork.
Tia Jones-Etu: My name is Tia Jones–Etu. I am a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I received my
B.F.A. I have created and taught in Chicago and Oak Park since 1982. I’ve studied art in Chicago, Paris, London, Zacatecas and served for a time as an Ambassador of the Arts in Brazil. My lifelong endeavor has been to improve the quality of the human behavior and experience. I do this through art weather I’m creating it or teaching it.
My objective in teaching art is to build young minds and imaginations by teaching them how to create from what’s inside of them and how to incorporate that with technical skills. My personal art captures social inequities in powerful and unique ways. Life experiences and travels have sat me at the table of many cultures, be it across the sea or across the border lines of Chicago – giving me firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be “the other.” The pathos depicted in my pieces reaches across all borders of race, gender orientation, and religion, and grabs the viewer with a very real sense of human longing for acceptance.
TH: How does living/working or being from Chicago influence your creative practice?
TE: Chicago is unpredictable. From day to day you never know what to wear because of the changing climate. This effect creates lots of changing emotions. That defines my work, unpredictable changing emotions.
TH: Describe the moment that you realized that you wanted to make art a career.
TE: I first decided I wanted to make art a career when I first realized I wanted to create art for the rest of my life. Once that was clear then the next step for me was how to survive on my passion, hence the career. I first decided I wanted to be an artist when my high school counselor came to me in my senior year with a scholarship to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The decision was really made for me.
TH: Can you remember your first memorable encounter with a piece of artwork?
TE: My first memorable encounter with a piece of artwork was when I was in high school and was introduced to a book about the artist Salvador Dali. My art teacher showed it to me. I felt very connected to that surrealist style of painting. In the beginning that was the style in which I painted. It was also the 70’s so surrealist art was highly visible.
TH: How have people responded to your work until this moment?
TE: People have responded to my art work with a range of emotions basically all the emotions we as a race experience. I say this because my art work deals with life and the pursuit of living it.
TH: Where would you like to see yourself and your work in the next 5 years?
TE: I will see my work in museums, theatres, public art, and in books both history and animated. I will share my wisdom by teaching the upcoming artist. I will teach them how to survive this art world.
TH: Do you remember the first piece of work you ever created in your career? How does it compare to the most recent?
TE: My first piece of artwork I really don’t remember but my innocence and fearlessness I do remember. Now after years of study, I go back to those days and ways of thinking to regain my freedom of expression.
TH: Shameless plug. What are you doing right now? What shows are you in or preparing for? What series of work are you investigating, starting or thinking about starting?
TE: I am re-working some painting techniques right now, strengthening some weaknesses. It’s never ending for me. I am always in the classroom.
Learn more about Tia’s work by visiting her website HERE.
See her contribution to the Oak Park Mini-Murals HERE.