Katharine Jones Brings Marfa to Brearley

Art’s Katharine Jones likes her friends to call her KB. She is a visual artist who holds degrees from Columbia University and the University of New Mexico. In her seventh year at Brearley, she took a two-month mini-sabbatical to live and paint in a bunker in Marfa, Texas.
As a resident at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Ms. Jones was very isolated—three hours from the nearest airport, far from any hospital—and during the fall of 2020 a pandemic was raging. Instead of an atmosphere pulsing with international artists of diverse ages, backgrounds and disciplines, after a day's work she would walk to Dairy Queen, by herself, and get a Butterfinger and banana Blizzard or maybe take in a local football game.
“I think I slowed down a little,” she says. “It wasn’t always easy. I was just an artist.” 

Marfa is a place, Ms. Jones notes, where “you can see time happening, you can see the weather miles away.” Sourcing materials from “whatever [she] could get on clearance,” Ms. Jones drew from the huge skies and endless landscape to “work large” and, at least initially, in a realistic way.

The artist Donald Judd started the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum that houses his and his friends’ artwork. Ms. Jones explains that Judd’s work is mostly boxes, is very minimal, and that these boxes are out in a field, on an old army base where each artist has their own army barrack. Around sunset she’d go hiking around the boxes. “It’s a really nice time to walk among these amazing artworks. You see javelinas, little foxes, different animals. Then one night, I was with a friend and this giant rattlesnake came out and hissed at us!”

Ms. Jones’s time at Marfa, and that snake encounter, changed her painting. She “took the more realistic work and started to flatten it out.” In the heat of the day, when she’d go out with all of her gear, she wouldn’t see the animals. But she remembered the snakes and added snakes to her paintings. Her painting took new liberties, changed in palette and became more abstract. 

Ms. Jones credits her Brearley students and colleagues alike with her growth. “It is such a give and take. I feel like I learn so much from the students—it goes back and forth—and from our teachers current and our teachers past.”

She shares, by way of example, that fellow Brearley teacher Dale Emmart taught her about the gear needed for plein air painting: the little easel, the hiking chair, and the backpack. “It’s kind of like fly fishing. Dale does it year round. A lot in Pennsylvania, and she takes people to Portugal. And so two years ago I went on her plein air painting Portugal trip and that’s where I really learned about the gear and about what you needed to make that happen.”

“In the Lower School,” she finishes, “the students start with this lesson about line, and what is a line and how to make an interesting line. It’s a really beautiful way to introduce kids to art. And in some ways, I feel like going to Marfa brought me back to where I was beginning, more just with line, and then color and then overlapping shapes, but just going back really to the basics.” 

Written by Erik King and Melissa Raso
The Brearley School is a K-XII independent day school for girls in New York City. Empowering girls of adventurous intellect to think critically and creatively.
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New York, NY 10028
(212) 744-8582 

590 East 83rd Street
New York, NY 10028
(212) 744-8582