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Art & Life with Jean Blackwell Font

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jean Blackwell Font.

Jean, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born in a small town in Maryland, but I don’t really come from there. We moved so much between Maryland, Virginia, and Florida when I was small, that I don’t have any roots or real memories about my formative years. My mother suffered from mental illness and, as a result, we were pretty poor and never stayed in one place for very long. Chaos kept us moving, so a lot of my childhood memories are lost. Among my few, treasured memories, I can recall the moment I knew I wanted to be an artist. I was probably 4 or 5 years old, and I made several little drawings of animals and put them together as a little book. I was so happy with my creation, I decided then I wanted to be an artist. After that, every time I saw one of those little ads for mail-order art school (they were so popular back in the 70’s); every time I saw one, I would draw the character from the ad. I knew I had what it took to “Be an Artist!”

When I was 16, my parents moved away from the town where we had been living for several years, and I just didn’t want to move again. They allowed me to stay behind in South Florida with a friend and her family, while they moved on with my two younger siblings to North Florida. I was on my own and did what I could to get myself through high school – and graduated in the top 10% of my class. I was smart, and worked hard, but had little guidance in how to get myself to college or art school. I ended up living a work-a-day life and, while I tried community college and a short stint at an art institute, I just couldn’t figure out how to afford life and education.

I grew up, fell in love, had a family and made a life for myself. Through it all, I continued to explore my own artistic nature, learning the names of artists, materials, and techniques, and reading incessantly from classic literature to today’s non-fiction. I searched for opportunities to make and show work or made my own opportunities. Fast forward to today, and I’m grounded in my identity as a mixed media artist living in Miami, FL. I am self-taught, learning from artists I know personally or through studying the life and art of those whose work I admire. Influenced by artists Francis Picabia and Romare Bearden, Wangechi Mutu, and Joseph Cornell, I have developed a visual vocabulary to express ideas and concepts through painting, collage and mixed media.

With the encouragement and support of my husband and fellow artist, Ignacio Font, and the vibrant artist community that has welcomed me here in Miami, I’ve been able to really explore techniques and concepts to continue to develop original works. Our studio at Warehouse 4726 in the Bird Road Arts District gives me the space I need to think, to play, to create. I’m that 5-year-old girl on the carpet again, experimenting with art supplies and ideas. I think that, in the end, if each of us can get back to that 5-year-old who knew exactly who we were meant to be, the world would be a much happier place!

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
Like me, my work has changed with time. I started in my 20’s doing paintings with acrylic paint on canvas. Later, I started exploring with collage, using images from fashion magazines, combined with my own paintings incorporated into the collage. Lately, I’ve been working with assemblage, using found and gifted objects, vintage maps, fabrics and other assorted things. I’m always thinking about what the items mean to me, and what messages they may communicate as part of the work.

Themes in my earlier work addressed the media-driven self-images that are often hard, if not impossible, for women to live up to. Often using images of myself, along with personal friends and other “everyday women”, I worked to reveal the diverse beauty, mystery and inherent power of simply being female. After the loss of my mother in 2010, my work has shifted to investigate the void left behind when a loved one is gone. My new body of work, Family Myths, addresses the few faded memories of my own life, along with the stories I’ve heard over time. While the focus of work, done with found objects and assemblage, is different from my earlier collage works, I still see my voice and vocabulary continuing to evolve. I’m still exploring my own experience of being female, of being someone’s daughter, and of simply being.

Through the Family Myths work, I have developed a language of story-telling that features keys, locks, needles and thread. Vintage photos of long-forgotten people populate my new works; these are not actual family members, but instead strangers that lived in other homes, in other times. While unrelated to me, they are still, in some way, related to all of us. They help me tell the story of pain and loss, of memory and mental illness, of children lost and siblings distanced by time and space.

Ultimately, I find that when a work is honest, it communicates directly to the viewer. Unrelated to my own story or idea, often times the viewer tells me his or her own story, mysteriously revealed in the work being viewed. For me, there is no more meaningful and powerful experience than the shared stories that are buried in work that I am making.

What would you recommend to an artist new to the city, or to art, in terms of meeting and connecting with other artists and creatives?
I have never had the experience of the lonely artist. Miami has such a rich and vibrant arts community that there’s no need to be lonely. Gallery walks are everywhere now, in every suburb – get out there and talk to people. Artists put their blood, sweat and tears into their work and there is no greater reward than when someone walks up to your work and starts asking questions. Artists, even the shy ones, can talk about their work and will do so willingly.

Not the kind of person who will walk up to someone to start a conversation? Plenty of organizations now have ways to connect with the community. Volunteer with an organization that does things you’re interested in doing or offer a community day at your studio. One of our neighbors in the Bird Road Arts District hosts an open studio day once a month – where we all go with our supplies and each work on something separately, or we try out some new material or technique as a group. There are so many ways to connect.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
People can come by the studio to see my work. The studio is located in the Bird Road Arts District, at Warehouse 4726, and we’re there most weekends and often on week nights, too! We’re always hosting open studio nights, workshops, and community events.

My work has been shown in The Fridge Art Fair, both in NYC and Miami, and Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator has included my work in shows at their 400 Gallery on South Beach. I have an online gallery at my website, beefontstudios.com and also have an Instagram profile where I post my creative process as I work through a piece, @bee_font.

There’s an entire community of independent artists here in Miami that need your support, and when you find something that you like, don’t just take a picture with your cellphone – see if you can talk to the artist. Find out what that work means to the artist and share your interest. Even if you can’t afford that particular work of art, there may be other ways that you can support the artist and own a piece of their work.

Every artist needs support in the form of buying their work! Buy the work when you can. If not, share information and events on social media, or bring a friend to an exhibition. Showing up is a great way to show your support.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Image with text on glass was taken by Maria Patino.

Getting in touch: VoyageMIA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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