Collage as Affirmation: An Interview with Aaron Jones

Emmy Lee Wall, Capture Photography Festival


Emerging Toronto-based artist Aaron Jones mines magazines like Essence and O as well as educational texts such as encyclopedias and books on space, nature, and wildlife for found images which he recombines to create surreal, amorphous forms that defy categorization. Surrounded by these publications on fashion, pop culture, and education growing up, Jones would go through them searching for bodies; by extracting pictures and using them to build entirely new images, Jones’ work points to the complex and multi-layered nature of reality as well as undefined possibilities for the future. By cutting and tearing existing images and recombining them into something entirely new, Jones’ practice is, for him, an act of self-affirmation, and a proclamation of a new reality.


Emmy Lee Wall: You started off as a photographer, but in an interview from the fall of 2019 you mentioned that you’ve stopped taking photographs because there was no point in taking more pictures. Can you explain a little more about what you mean by that? 

Aaron Jones: As I reflect on that interview, I think it’s important to say that the statement I made was very personal. What I meant was, there was no reason for me to take photos as an artistic practice. Photography through my own hands no longer served me. Maybe it never served me or never made me feel artistically satisfied. At least not to the degree that comes with finishing a collage.  

ELW: Can you tell us a little bit about the source material for your collages — where do you find the images you use and what makes a compelling image for you such that you want to include it in a collage? 

AJ: Around 2014/2015 I started working through collage. A large majority of my source material was just in my mother’s home. Often using beauty, health, and fashion magazines such as Essence and O which had been archived in that home over the majority of my childhood years. Other source material comes from a handful of titles that are geared towards educating youth, covering topics such as the oceans, trees, space, and many others that are intended to help a young person understand the world they live in.

ELW: I recently read a text about your work from Zalucky Contemporary in relation to your solo exhibition there that states that your “practice surrounds ideas of self-reflection and character-building, as a way of finding peace.” Can you unpack this a little for us? 

AJ: Without going too deep, my work explores finding peace as a philosophy. I think people engage in self-reflection and character-building in many ways. For example, through putting ourselves in the shoes of a main character in a story, regardless of it being a book, or show, or movie. Or even being aware of what we post on the internet because of the way it will affect how people see our character. Even in the simple act of getting dressed, or choosing the people who we surround ourselves with, or what we want to eat. 
      In some capacity we go through self-reflection and character building when making those choices. Regardless of our belief systems, the choices we make help confirm our reality. And in turn, have an impact on the objects, people and food we choose (those of us that have the ability to choose) are self-affirmations which bring peace. 
      For myself – and I could imagine other artists feel the same – what I create makes some form of affirmations. Visually, I feel it is somewhat difficult for myself to relate to many photographic and cinematic depictions of people. With existing images, I dismantle them, cut, rip, and tear them – I deny them. As if I’m denying how I’m supposed to see myself in them. Then, I build new characters through the medium of collage, like I’m building myself and building my memories. Creating these characters and images, is like creating my own affirmations for life. Affirmations that bring peace for the self, like finding one’s true home.

ELW: I really like this idea that in collaging an image – cutting and tearing it – you are denying it. But the act is simultaneously positive – you use the original found image to create something new and affirming. Do you think it’s fair of me to say that there is something incredibly powerful in this act?

AJ: I won’t say it isn’t fair, but I honestly never considered saying to myself that this act is “something incredibly powerful.” For me, this act is something I felt I needed to do. As the years go by, I am evolving my practice and working through video, sculpture, and digital formats. But something about collage and the act of creating affirmations seems like a no brainer in the context of this world. Powerful or not, I think denying what we have been given from the status quo is an important act. And to go deeper than denying images. I believe it is important to act to deny established structures of government, policing, schooling, banking, and healthcare to move toward a more tangible prosperity for all people. It is important to imagine more than what is established.

ELW: How do you know when a work is complete?

AJ: Simply, it’s a feeling. I try to balance my own aesthetic values with my philosophical ones. As I work continuously to build and deconstruct my work for aesthetics, slowly a story, character, or place starts to come together in my mind; something that I can speak to. Even if I have the story I want to convey in my mind before the images are in front of me, it is really important for me to have a balance between aesthetic values and the richness in the story.

ELW: Can you talk a little about the influence of painting on your practice? In your earlier work, you were taking imagery from painting and incorporating it into your collages readily. I’m wondering if you are still looking a lot at painting? 

AJ:  I think paintings are, simply, the epitome of “art.” Maybe it’s because I’ve been somewhat indoctrinated to believe that or even because I shared studio space with 10+ painters. But I can’t get over using only colours that an artist mixed themselves to create a world seemingly all from scratch. 
      Currently, I’m not actively using any images of or from paintings in my work. What I’ve been shifting toward is only using specific clippings of just a colour from other artworks if any. I think it’s important for my collage practice to primarily use photographic images.
      And yes, I look at paintings more than any other artwork. Maybe it’s the most plentiful or readily available work to see in the world. Regardless, I really do enjoy the medium, and I definitely enjoy a wide array of paintings more than collage. Currently, I’m in awe of Oreka James @orekaj, Curtia Wright @curtia, Kezia @sugarygarbage, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Kerry James Marshall, and still to this day Francis Bacon.



Images in order of appearance:

Aaron Jones, Miner, magazine clippings, 2020, 27.94 x 33.02 cm, Courtesy of the Artist
Aaron Jones, Wardrobe, magazine clippings, 2020, 13.97 x 24.13 cm, Courtesy of the Artist
Aaron Jones, Cabinet, magazine clippings, 2020, 11.43 x 12.70 cm, Courtesy of the Artist
Aaron Jones, Sitting on the Sky, 2020, magazine clippings, 20.32 x 22.86 cm, Courtesy of the Artist

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