At age seven, Otis Jones liked to draw and make things, and though he came to understand that’s what artists did, he couldn’t imagine what an artist’s life would be like. He simply knew he wanted to be one. So, he studied art in Kansas and Montana, and completed his Masters of Fine Art degree at the University of Oklahoma in 1972. At a time when Minimalism was a dominant influence, he moved to and worked in New York, then returned to Texas where he’s taught and painted ever since—and where he has exhibited in solo shows in nearly every one of the last thirty years. At seventy-three, Jones remains a working—and prolific—artist.
Based for much of his adult life in Dallas, Jones was born in Galveston, a shrimping town on the Gulf Coast of Texas. His father was a natural gas pipeline worker, and the family moved three times a year. “I was an only child,” says Jones, “and by ninth grade I’d attended twenty-seven schools in several Southern states.” The chronic challenges of being the “new kid” receded during happier summers spent with his grandparents on their small farm in Missouri.
“My grandfather was a master carpenter and sign-painter. He’d say ‘Let’s build a kite’ or ‘Let’s put a target on the barn.’ We’d make or repair things together, which I loved.” In the cow stalls, Jones noticed the wear and patina of the milking stools. “They were just hammered together two by fours, but I saw them and other elements with their patches and repairs as relics with their own inherent beauty, separate from their context as a farm implement.”
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALLISON V. SMITH
WRITTEN BY EDWARD MCCANN
This story appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of MILIEU.