In the world of Marcia Jones, art is pain made pretty. It is where Jones, a painter, sculptor and performance artist, feels safe to speak of delusional states, dysfunctional relationships, being vulnerable and "The MS thing."
"I've utilized art as a voice," she says, "but I've let that voice kind of hide behind pretty pictures. And that's also indicative of my childhood. It's like, 'Make sure the exterior looks fine, but don't acknowledge what's really going on, on the interior.'"
What's "really going on" is the fight of one 38-year-old woman to move beyond the traumas that shaped her as a child and continue to follow her as an adult. On Jan. 10, Jones started a three-month residency at the Harvey Gantt Center and McColl Center for Visual Art, an opportunity she looks to as a turning point in her career and life.
"I think a lot of this residency — and I may be putting a lot on myself — is to shift out of this space of constantly projecting pain, but guising it as, 'I'm healing through my pain,'" she says. "I'm going to be doing workshops — healing workshops — and I think that's gonna culminate the whole journey. [This residency] is like the finale, then on to a new journey."
The journey began in Chicago, with a 3-year-old Jones playing hide-and-seek with self, underneath her grandmother's bed, in closets or in the cupboard below the kitchen sink. In these stowaway places, she nurtured her love for art — found solace in art — while escaping the abuse at home. Now a resident of Atlanta, Jones plays hide-and-seek on canvases, not-speaking her truths about conflicts of self-interest, failed relationships or her struggle with Multiple Sclerosis — an experience that is the focus of her "Resolved" series.
"I'm still very uncomfortable [with it]," she says, of revealing her battle with the disease. "I don't say, 'This motherfuckin' MS is kicking my ass.' I never say that. I'm still not there," she continues. "That's the thing with Charlotte. It's kind of at the point where I don't have a choice. I've set myself up to where I don't have a choice, I have to talk about it."
Another thing Jones will talk about during her residency is the image of the female body. Jones says she plans to create a performance piece called "The Displaced Oshun Theory" that will explore this topic. "I was in New York and I went to this sacred art of Haitian voodoo exhibit," she says. "The majority of the altars were female-centered, and I'm sitting there watching these men petitioning and praying and throwing money at these altars. And I said, 'What about this is so fucking familiar?' And I started connecting the twisted dots and I said, 'I'm going to Magic City [one of the biggest strip clubs in Atlanta] when I get back to Atlanta.' And there it was, the altars, the tables with the food, the cigars, the money ... there was a deity up there [the stripper] objectified like a statue ... the same fucking thing, just displaced."
Ce Scott, creative director for Gantt and McColl, says Jones' work made her a complimentary follow-up to outgoing artist-in-residence Fahamu Pecou.
"When thinking about the Gantt Center artist-in-residence program, who is selected, and who is following whom, one of the things that I considered with Fahamu and Marcia [who will both be in an exhibition at the Gantt Center this summer] is how there is a point/counterpoint thematically in terms of their artwork," says Scott. "That was part of the reason why I wanted her to be in residence winter 2011."
In addition to her studio work, Jones will hold a regular workshop at the Hawthorne Innovative Cooperative High School, where she plans to work with students on "Visual Emotion."
"It's about how to tap into and assign shape, color, form, line and texture to an emotion," she says. "I'm really looking forward to working at the Hawthorne school because I want those kids to begin to dissect what's internal and what's external. And what external forces are dictating what's internal." Jones says she also wants to do a workshop on post-trauma and "how women sort through their pain." But even as she commits to helping others work through their pain, Jones (a former telephone psychic) forecasts that 2011 is mainly about overcoming her own.
"My new name for 2011 is going to be 'New-New,'" she says. "I want to do something that I've never done before. And that is consistently, authentically live in joy — in some sort of joy. I want to laugh every day, because I've spent a lot of my life crying every day."