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Laguna Beach

Artist and community art leader Kathy Jones delivers the next LOCA Art Talk at the LCAD Gallery


“When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Kathy Jones encountered this query on a billboard she passed one day. The message stuck with her. Considering the trajectory of Jones’s professional and artistic careers, and the intentional way she lives her daily life, it’s clear she takes these kinds of questions seriously. She seizes on opportunities, embraces adventure and never shrinks from a challenge. 

artist and KJ 1

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Kathy Jones will appear at the next LOCA Art Talk at the LCAD Gallery

Next Thursday, Jan. 20, the public is invited to join Jones and access her artistic headspace. The painter has mounds of practical wisdom to impart. She came to art after a long and successful career in academia, having served as the first female vice chancellor at UCI and as the vice president of Georgetown University. After leaving Georgetown, Jones worked in management consulting and as a strategic planning consultant. 

But art was always her passion. Jones began showing her paintings at the Festival of Arts in 2000. She served on the Festival board for 5 1/2 years and the LOCA Arts Education board for seven years, voluntarily retiring in 2019 to pursue other artistic opportunities. Today, she serves as the current president of the FOA Foundation and shows her paintings at the Sue Greenwood Gallery in Laguna Beach, the Patricia Rovzar Gallery in Seattle, the Marshall Gallery in Scottsdale and The Lily Pad Gallery’s two locations in Milwaukee and Rhode Island.

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Courtesy of Kathy Jones

“Trying to Make Sense of It All” (spring 2020), cold wax on panel, 40 x 30

Her impressive resume aside, Jones recognizes the impediments (both real and perceived) that artists face. Over the decades, she’s developed strategies to combat the inner critic, maintain a balanced lifestyle and continue posing fresh challenges to herself. 

“We all live with barriers and perceived obstacles,” Jones said. “Many people came to my booth at the Festival and said things like, ‘I would love to paint, but when I was in third grade somebody told me I didn’t have any talent,’ or ‘I don’t have the right to do this work,’ or ‘I should be doing something else.’ They spent their lives living under these shadows without taking opportunities to do things they loved because of these perceived slights. We all live with barriers and perceived obstacles.” 

Simply listening to Jones talk breaks some of those barriers down, or at least allows us to recognize their existence. Whether it’s her rich life experiences or her innate approach to life, Jones has a way of stripping away the superfluous and clarifying the issues that often constrain us.

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Courtesy of Kathy Jones

This 2003 piece conveys the progression of Jones’s process. 

One piece of artistic advice has served Jones particularly well. “I had a teacher who emphasized the importance of making contracts with yourself,” Jones said. “That guide became a lodestar for me.” Jones pointed out how easy it became to get overwhelmed by artistic options. Choosing a medium, a canvas size, a color palette and a subject matter can paralyze any artist. Unbound freedom is the artist’s enemy. 

“You need a starting point and an end point,” Jones said. “When I’m interested in exploring something new, I make that contract with myself. I give myself a timeline and a set of things to explore. It may change as I go along, but the contract gives me a set of parameters that allows me to operate with some sense of order. For me, that’s important.” 

The contract usually includes a deadline. It might restrict Jones to certain colors, canvas sizes or subject matters. But, for her, those restrictions are liberating.

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Courtesy of Kathy Jones

Kathy Jones at work in her studio on Laguna Canyon Road

“I also want to talk about not worrying about your work,” Jones said. “What is it you do that takes you completely out of your work, allows you to step away and then come back at it with a fresh eye?” It’s important, Jones said, to give yourself permission to take breaks and recharge your creative energy. “It may be cultural, but many of us get caught up in the pressure of producing the next piece. It’s all we think about. Instead, slow down and give yourself the opportunity to do things that have nothing to do with your work so you’ll come back with more energy and freedom. I don’t think that sense of freedom is innate in most of us. We’re not a very playful society.” 

Jones is an artist who works from the inside out, painting what she feels instead of what she sees. Her images walk an elegant line between the abstract and the figurative, but each one evokes an emotional response. 

When asked how the pandemic impacted her work, Jones said, “I recently had a chance to look at that issue. I sent a new batch of paintings to a gallery and realized my prior paintings – ones I’d done maybe four or six months earlier – were quite a bit more jagged. They almost looked constrained. They had all these lines that looked like barbed wire and seemed influenced by a sense that bad things were happening out there. My more recent paintings were quite cheerful. Maybe they shouldn’t be cheerful considering where we are today, but I painted them during a time where there seemed to be a lift in the world. A sense of optimism was reflected in those pieces.” Of course, Jones said, that’s all subconscious. She never strives to depict her awareness of the world or her moods. That’s simply the internal machinery of an artistic mind at work. 

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Courtesy of Kathy Jones

“Shadowed” (spring 2020) showcases the internal struggles of an artist working during the pandemic

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Courtesy of Kathy Jones

“Blessings” (late 2020), cold wax on panel, 12 x 9, captures a sense of hope and optimism

“I never know where a painting will go,” Jones said. “And I tend to work on multiple pieces at a time to give myself opportunities to see new things.” 

Jones envisions her upcoming talk more like an interactive dialogue with the audience. “What I really appreciate and value is the conversation,” she said. “I’m hopeful this talk will be informal. This is a chance to support one another. It’s about enhancing and strengthening the arts community. If I can contribute anything to that conversation, I’m really happy to do it.”

Jones’s talk promises to be inspiring for artists working across all mediums, and perhaps even for those who don’t identify as artists. Much of Jones’s advice has applications to everyday life. Start by asking yourself: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” 

artist and KJ 7

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Courtesy of Kathy Jones

Jones delivered a 2015 LOCA Talk with artist Betty Haight in her studio. Participants used Matisse’s cutouts as inspirations to make their own pieces, which were assembled into a mural.

The LOCA Art Talk is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 20 at 4 p.m. at the LCAD Gallery located at 374 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach. Due to a recent surge in COVID cases, there’s a possibility the event will be postponed. Visit LOCA’s website at for the latest updates and information. 


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