Dirty Nails Survey: Laura Jones

Laura Jones is a Sydney based artist whose expressive paintings explore a deep admiration for the wild, natural world, a fascination that began when Laura was a child growing up with her plant loving parents at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Laura’s time outside playing in the garden, arranging leaves into shapes & collecting sticks to build tiny moss houses awoke an interest in ‘looking’ – an interest that Laura says is the reason she became an artist. We caught up with the highly acclaimed painter to find out what’s making her fingernails dirty right now.

Laura Jones in her studio. Image by Rachel Kara

Can you please tell us a little about your life with plants? I grew up in Kurrajong – a small town at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Both my parents know a lot about plants, and spent a lot of time with us in our garden and in the bush. When I was little I spent a lot of time looking closely at things in the garden; playing with leaves, looking at the patterns within them and arranging them into different shapes, looking for the perfect forked sticks to build tiny houses out of moss, rolling around in the grass… I’m sure that my time spent outside is why I became so interested in ‘looking’, and why I became an artist. When I grew up and moved to Sydney, I became a florist to help support my art practice. That helped me stay closely connected to plants and flowers, and I ended up painting them every day.

What’s getting under your fingernails right now? A little bit of paint from time to time, but I wear gloves in my studio because oil paint isn’t as good for you as dirt.

What story would your hands tell us about you? I’ve got some little scars. One from trying to chop the stems off some red roses that had stems like tree trunks. Another recent one where I was trying to drill into a sculpture and the drill-bit snapped and slipped, lodging a bit of it into my knuckle. Sometimes chewed nails – a bad habit from thinking too much about painting and just generally needing to keep my hands busy.

I am good with my hands, I’ve always loved making things, and I think you can tell that by looking at them.”

How do you feel about dirt? I love dirt. It’s good for you. It gives us so much. The other day I saw a woman on the footpath trying to dispose of a small pot plant. I think it was a malnourished herb of some kind. She was looking at it like it was disgusting. She then grabbed it by holding a plastic bag to it, and held it at arms length while she pulled it out of the pot, shook the dirt out the roots, then turned the bag over it and put it in the bin. I actually felt really sorry for the plant! It’s so weird to me that people think plastic is clean and dirt is dirty. It’s the other way around.

People need to connect to the outdoors more, and stop that disconnected and upside-down way of thinking. The cleanest place is outside in the dirt!”

I’m really concerned about the waste in the world, and where it ends up. I think largely it’s because people think that rubbish disappears into some sort of magical Bermuda triangle, but in reality, everything is under one roof. Almost everything turns to dirt and comes back again… except plastic.

What are you growing right now? Indoor plants at the moment. I work in a warehouse with other artists, and find that the plants make a huge difference to the space we work in. We work in a grimy and industrial place, so the plants give it life.

Gloves or no gloves when working in the garden? No gloves.

What did you learn from you parents about plants? My parents taught me how to plant plants properly, and how to care for them. Mum’s favourite thing to do is water the garden. Growing up she’d often give me the hose and demand I count to 60 for each one or make sure the water came out the bottom before moving onto the next one. We have massive terracotta pots around the house with azaleas, giant palms, camellias, cumquats, cymbidiums and so on. Inside the house they have a room called ‘the plant room’, with a glass ceiling. It was and still is full of big old kentia and rhapis palms… they’re huge now and have recently been re-potted into the biggest pots I’ve ever seen. I also learnt a lot about native plants from my father, who has an incredible knowledge of the botanical names of plants. He can name everything on a bush walk and photographs them all lovingly.

Tell us something about gardening we can’t find in a reference book. If you have pot plants you shouldn’t leave them sitting in their dish after you water them. I live in a tiny apartment so I take them into the shower, give them a really big drink, let them drain completely, then put them back on the tray after an hour. Plants don’t like to sit in their own water, and they mostly prefer a big drink, less frequently, rather than a cup of water here and there. So many people used to bring their plants into the flowers shops I worked at and say desperately, “What did I do wrong?!” and I’d say, “I’m sorry, it’s too late, you killed it with too much water!” Also, don’t let their leaves get dusty. Wipe their leaves so the sun can get in. Most of all, plants have a ‘spot’ they like best so figure out where that is and leave them to it.

If you were a plant, what would you be? Why? Well I wouldn’t be a Fig on Anzac Parade that’s for sure! I’d like to be a flannel flower in the bush. They often have a wonderful view.

Do you have a remedy for gardener’s hands? if so please share it with us! Hand massages. When I was a florist, sympathy helped!

Laura Jones is a Sydney based artist represented by Olsen Gallery. See more of Laura’s amazing works through her WEBSITEINSTAGRAM.

All images supplied by Laura Jones.

"Symbiosis 2017, oil on linen, diptych 152 x 244 cm overall" from recent "Bleached" exhibition at Olsen Gallery.