Katie McKay Jones’s studio is filled with the sound of her children’s giggles and rustling tambourines as much as it is of the sound of her palette knife scraping off paint and the stroke of her brush on canvas. To see Katie as a mother before an artist is to see Katie.
Upon first meeting Katie, it’s easy to understand how important her family is to her and the influence they have in her life as an artist. With a home studio and two children, one can comfortably jump to the conclusion that finding balance as an artist and mother is difficult for Katie. However, during our visit to her home-studio, we witnessed how easily she incorporates her art into her children’s life—allowing their creativity to blossom right alongside her own. For her children, watching their mother painting is as natural as watching their mother cook. In this way, she has figured out a way to intertwine her work as an abstract artist with her role as a stay-at-home mother with much grace. So much so, that her newest body of work is inspired by a parenting tactic she used on her daughter. A lie.
When Katie’s daughter Ruby was 5, she started having nightmares about monsters under her bed. So she spent many nights convincing Ruby that monsters were not real and that she would be okay. Katie shares,
However, the monsters Katie started to see out in the world were much different than the ones Ruby feared were under her bed. They were real world monsters—racism, bigotry, hatred, oppression, violence...and the list goes on. Things that can really keep a mother with children up at night.
“[My paintings] represent life. They represent the constant noise of hatred and oppression, the inner struggle between right and wrong, the unwillingness to see and truly hear other people, and all the lies we choose to believe. They represent the brokenness in the world.”
Flamingo Spitting Out Gum - Mixed media on canvas, 2020
When you look at Katie’s paintings you see exactly that. Harsh and dark brush strokes spread across a beautifully soft palette of pink in her painting “Flamingo Spitting Out Gum,” while playful crayon-like drawings dance across the bottom of the canvas reflecting a child-like innocence amongst the chaos. Underneath it all, layers of paint in colors that will never be seen to the viewer hide underneath just like the biases we are born with and can never quite shed.
Yet, as the artist notes, there is beauty in the loudness and chaos of her work. “There are bright, bold colors that complement one another. There are lines that are naive and playful. There are subtle textures and quietness in the details.” And just as her motherly love shields her children from the darkness of the world’s scary monsters, her painting’s quiet moments envelop us with the feeling of calm and gentle reflection.
“I want the viewers to get close to my paintings, to feel the tension between loud and quiet, chaos and peace, weakness and strength. I want the viewers to find beauty in the brokenness and feel empowered by it."
Feeling empowered by brokenness is something that really struck a chord with us. This year, we’ve personally experienced brokenness in the form of debilitating depression, self-isolation, and an inability to see beyond to the light at the end of a tunnel. Maybe you have experienced that yourself. Yet in Katie’s paintings, we see that instead of fighting the emotions that come along with brokenness, we can choose to embrace it and expose it to those parts of ourselves that really shine.
Love, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness. Her paintings give us a visual understanding that our brokenness isn’t so ugly after all...that combined with our best selves, it’s beautiful and freeing.
If this year has taught us anything, it is that dormant emotions and biases don’t stay dormant forever. Life happens and gives them a reason to awaken from their slumber. For some, this year has revealed to us our own monsters that live within and the uncomfortable reckoning we have had to make with them, or are still making with them.
We hope that regardless of where you are in life, you’ll find yourself reflected in one of Katie’s paintings and her message— whether you’re the calm neutrals laying back and holding the whole painting together, or you’re the paint strokes of uncertain lines off to the side. Katie’s paintings help us remember our own monsters, and the monsters out in the world.
Katie McKay Jones is a painter residing in Fort Worth, Texas. She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with an emphasis in Painting and Printmaking.