The artist, writer and curator Phillip March Jones almost always carries a notebook — a small Moleskine affair, just the right size to put in a jacket or pocket, suitable for jotting down important notes.
Typically, he also travels with art supplies (he is an artist, after all), and so 15 years ago, he started to develop meandering compositions that build, with color and form, on the scribblings in each notebook, phone numbers, names and so forth.
But he never was interested in showing the notebooks in a gallery setting: "I never considered them artworks in that way."
But the Corvallis artist and curator Bruce Burris had a different idea. Burris and Jones have been friends since they met years ago in Kentucky. When Burris caught a glimpse of one of Jones' notebooks, he was intrigued — and thought they would make for a fascinating exhibit.
So now, a collection of 32 of Jones' notebooks will be featured in a show opening today at Burris' CEI Artworks Gallery, 480 SW Monroe Ave. The gallery is open today from 4 to 8 p.m. as part of the Corvallis Arts Walk.
Jones founded Institute 193, a nonprofit contemporary art space, in Lexington, Kentucky in 2009 and later served as the inaugural director of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta. He currently oversees Institute 193 (1B), a collaborative project space in New York's East Village. In 2019, he'll curate the Atlanta Biennial, an exhibition showcasing emerging, established and forgotten artistic practices around the region, for Atlanta Contemporary.
"Workbooks" represents 15 years of almost daily work — and the discipline required to look at to-do lists and phone numbers and addresses and perceive another visual pattern on the pages that can be the starting point for a composition. Two zeroes in a phone number could become eyes in a figure. Crossed-out items on a list could be the starting point for lines on a man's shirt.
Jones said he usually travels with a little watercolor kit, and can pull that out to work on a page when he finds some free time. But he'll also use markers or pen and pencil — even a highlighter, if one is handy.
"It's really anything I can find," he said, adding that the resulting works are "really intuitive."
And, he said, the notebooks offer him a measure of artistic freedom.
"The truth is, the workbooks are completely free of the constraints that I would normally feel."
He's partial to the Moleskine notebooks because of their durability and typically will use the sketchbook varieties because the paper is a little thicker than in a typical notebook.
Part of the trick in setting up the exhibit will be deciding what page to feature in each notebook — viewers will not be able to page through the books, which, after all, do contain some personal notes (although items such as phone numbers and bank information have been redacted).
And the collection of workbooks he's garnered over the years serves in some ways as a diary of his life over the last 15 years. It will be interesting, he said, to see them as part of a formal display.
"These are some of the most valuable things in my life."