Local Artist Has Work Featured
In New York City Art Fair
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Darren Jones
Windsorite Darren Jones first moved to Chicago at the age of 30 to pursue a corporate career. What he did not anticipate, however, was the career that was about to start pursuing him.
One night, in 2004, Darren decided to go and catch a movie. To this day, he does not remember what the film was about, who was in it or how many bags of popcorn he guzzled. But he does remember what he locked eyes with on his way into that dark theatre.
“Right next door to the cinema was an art store,” Darren recalls. “Sitting in the window was a really cool starter oil painting kit. I was immediately smitten.”
Darren sat through the movie, numb to the lights flickering above him. His mind was awash with colours.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about that painting kit,” Darren states. “I kept saying to myself, ‘If the store is still open after the movie, I’m going to go in and buy it.’”
Sure enough, when Darren stumbled out of the theatre, the painting kit was still there. Waiting for him.
“I grabbed a few small canvases while I was in there,” Darren reports. “I got home, I locked the doors and I just started experimenting.”
That first night was an electric one. Darren stayed up until three in the morning, slashing at the canvas until the colours leaked down his elbows.
“Painting really illuminated something inside of me,” Darren explains. “I couldn’t stop giggling inside. There I was, not knowing what I was doing, just charging in trying everything. There was just the spark that I couldn’t explain. But I knew, at that moment, that I was doing what I was meant to do. I haven’t stopped since.”
And as an entirely self-taught artist, that first night of wild improvisation set the tone for the rest of Darren’s career.
“What I did that first night, I’m still currently doing,” Darren explains. “In the sense that I don’t let rules or restrictions hinder what I think or what I want to do. That first night was exactly that. I literally was just putting paint on the canvas. I was just trying things, seeing if they worked. And I still do that today!”
As a contemporary abstract artist, Darren’s process is defined by bottomless passion and a love of evocative patterns.
“I might see something while I’m travelling,” Darren states. “And I’ll say to myself, ‘Wow! I want to create that texture! How can I replicate that?’ For me, the paint is always the predominant element. Then, I can add in different elements.”
For a time, Darren continued working full-time at Forbes, a travel publication, all the while painting on evenings and weekends in his sunroom. After connecting with some local artists through gallery openings, he ended up sharing a studio space with a fellow painter.
“That really helped me grow as an artist,” Darren explains. “Suddenly I didn’t have to worry about getting paint on the walls and whatnot. And that’s around the same time that I had my first show. That gave me something to work towards.”
Life then took another unexpected turn for Darren. In March 2009, he was laid off from his executive position. Which left him with a difficult choice to make.
“I remember sitting on the curb in downtown Chicago,” Darren recalls. “I looked around at the skyscrapers. I had a choice to make. I could easily find another job in my industry. Or I could just take the leap and become a full-time artist.”
The next several years were a blur for Darren. He hosted countless art shows and his work was featured in a wide selection of galleries. During this time, he ended up relocating into his own studio space.
“I think that renting my own studio was the biggest catalyst for me,” Darren explains. “In the sense that now, I was 100% responsible for what I do. There wasn’t anyone to share expenses with. This was all on me. As well, having that kind of space allowed me to jump into larger scale work.”
As Darren’s talent ballooned, so too did his canvases. He has worked on a variety of large-scale projects, including his latest collection, the Inner Courage series.
“I started this series of paintings right before the pandemic,” Darren explains. “And I have been fine-tuning these works while we’ve been in lockdown. They were inspired by the jujitsu lessons I had just started. It was really interesting to see how learning a martial art—especially at my age!—changed the way my brain thinks. I took the movements I was learning on the mats and applied them to the canvas.”
Darren spent a few months evolving the Inner Courage series. And while he was quietly working away, life was preparing another one of its characteristic curveballs.
“I am affiliated with a gallery in Brussels, Belgium,” Darren states. “Gregoire Vogelsang is the curator. He created a show called the Cube Art Fair. The concept of the show is bringing contemporary North American artists to Europe. They are currently on their fifth iteration of the show, but I’ve participated since the beginning. It was my first overseas international show. One year we even did a smaller version of the Cube Art Fair in New York.”
During the pandemic, Gregoire was searching for a way to showcase the explosion of creativity that happened during these unprecedented times. So, last October, Gregoire launched the Digital Billboard Art Fair—an event that displayed the work of a hundred artists on billboards across Brussels.
Due to the incredible success of the Digital Billboard Art Fair, Gregoire later brought it to New York.
“Gregoire created what was essentially the world’s largest a la cart public art fair,” Darren explains. “It features 100 pieces of art on the 12,000 square-foot billboard in Times Square, as well as a hundred billboard kiosks throughout the city. There are kiosks down in Wall Street, in Union Square, on the Upper West Side and on the Upper East Side.”
As he was fully vaccinated, Darren was able to fly to New York to witness his work Inner Courage featured on what can only be described as the world’s largest canvas.
“I was able to attend the opening release reception,” Darren states. “I was able to go to Times Square and see my work—five stories tall! And I was pretty emotional! It was a pretty amazing experience.”
Seeing his work broadcasted on such a monumental scale represents the culmination of Darren’s 14 plus years of hard work.
“I’m an artist, but I still maintain a corporate style work ethic,” Darren explains. “I’m always in the studio. I’m always trying new things. I’m always working towards the next show. I’m always working towards the next collection. Seeing my work up on that billboard was the pinnacle of my career.”
And Darren’s ascent has not gone unnoticed.
“I recorded my reaction to the billboard,” Darren states. “Then I posted it, live, to my social media. It just blew up. I had people from Windsor, Toronto, Europe, New Zealand and Asia all commenting on it. And partly that’s the brilliance of the campaign! No matter where you are in the world, everyone knows Times Square. They know how important and how big this really is! Everyone is just genuinely amazed and excited. I’m getting emotional just talking about it!”
Darren encourages every young artist who dreams of turning their passion into their career to stride forward with confidence.
“I’ve got a really solid group of artist friends around the country and here in Chicago,” Darren explains. “I’ve been able to sort of mentor some of the younger ones. A lot of them are in the same situation that I was in. They’re working full time. I think you just have to really believe in yourself. I have a quote that I write on the back of every painting that I sell. It’s: ‘Let Your Heart Guide You To Your True Passion.’ If you believe in yourself, and you know you can do this, then you can. But it’s a lot of hard work.”
More information on Darren’s art is available at darrencjones.com.