Open Studios: Meet Dex R. Jones, a Brooklyn-born photographer whose bold and colorful images celebrate black beauty


Artnet Open Studios is a curatorial project produced by the Artnet Galleries team that grants underrepresented artists the distinct benefits of membership in the Gallery Network. This initiative broadens the field of discovery by featuring artists from BIPOC who are actively developing their online presence and their relationships with collectors. Open Studios takes a closer look at the practices of artists with digital showcases of their works.

Brooklyn-born and based photographer Dex R. Jones creates striking photographs that are rooted in the rich culture and colors of his Caribbean heritage. Further influenced by his extensive studies of Pan-African histories, Jones’s The striking, even royal, portraits of black women and men are often characterized by seductively saturated colors. In these works, the artist celebrates forms of beauty in a new way, with her images detailing texture, hues and flesh to convey a sense of vulnerability.

Below, we spoke to Jones about his photography practice.

Dex R. Jones, Self-portrait. Courtesy of the artist.

Name: Dex R. Jones
Age: 34
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York State
Current City: Brooklyn, New York State
Average: Digital photography

How did you find your way into the art world?
From an early age, I was interested in visual arts and artistic expressions. I spent a lot of time in front of the television when I was a child; watch Disney cartoons and movies on VHS. I loved drawing back then, and I dreamed of becoming a cartoonist or animator for Disney when I grew up.

Back when I was in high school, everything revolved around anime for me. I was drawing anime characters all the time and trying to write and draw my own comics, just to see if I could do it. And just before I left high school, I was roped into a poetry club by a friend. Poetry was not something I imagined myself doing. But others seemed to think there was something for me and encouraged me to participate in poetry recitals at school. And I think from there I fell in love with the performance aspect of spoken word creation. From that point on, I was a speech artist.

It was probably the first time that I considered myself an artist. I had graduated from high school, I was in college; and whenever I had the chance, I went to different venues or open mics across town to perform and make a name for myself. And I became part of a community of writers and performers.

After doing poetry for several years, I began to feel the need to express myself in another way that was not so performative. And I have always had an interest in photography. I had taken a few photography courses in college which required me to buy cameras. So even after I gave up I had these cameras that I felt I had to use them around. I wasn’t particularly good at any of the courses I took. But I was fascinated by photography and how it worked. It was fun to learn. So while I kept talking, I would shoot too and try to improve myself behind the camera whenever I could. Until finally I felt confident enough in my skills to put the pen and microphone down for good, and take the camera as my new medium.

Describe your job in your own words.
My work is very pro-black, and it’s something that has carried over from my time doing spoken word – there was definitely a theme in my writing that was always pro-black. But I didn’t feel the message was as effective from a young kid screaming on stage as it could be with pictures. So with photography I guess I was trying to show rather than say. My work is also very feminine, which I believe is directly linked to the strongly feminine presence in the home where I grew up. I think my job is pretty dull as well. I am a very moody person. I try to make my work create a feeling. There are a lot of colors in my work, and big contrasts, which lend themselves to all that.

Who are your artistic heroes and why?
To be honest, for much of my artistic career, I saw black art as a way of liberating black people. I don’t necessarily believe in it as much now as I did when I was younger. But for me, my heroes have always promoted these ideals. Kwame Ture and Malcolm X are two huge; Nina Simone, Bob Marley and Fela Kuti are a few others, who made music by chance. Other than that, I’m a fan of Andy Goldsworthy, because he works exclusively with nature. And I think every young black artist in New York City has compared themselves to Basquiat at some point in their lives. But if I had to say that I have had artistic heroes, it really is anyone who is exceptionally good at what they do.

What are your greatest inspirations, artistic or otherwise?
I think my biggest inspirations at the moment are music and cinema. As for the most inspiring, the one that best combines these two art forms is the film. Koyaanisqatsi by Godfrey Reggio, and all Ron Fricke movies.

If you could own one piece of art in the world, what would it be?
In fact, I never thought about it before, but I wouldn’t mind browsing through the works of Jamilla Okubo, Marcus Leslie Singleton or JT Liss and see what I can get.

LIMADA (2010)
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Dex R. Jones, Les Dandettes (2010).  Courtesy of the artist.

Dex R. Jones, LIMADA (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

The Debt (2010)
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Dex R. Jones, Les Dandettes (2010).  Courtesy of the artist.

Dex R. Jones, The Debt (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

Summon the storm (2010)
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Dex R. Jones, Summoning the Storm (2010).  Courtesy of the artist.

Dex R. Jones, Summon the storm (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

ARE ALONE (2010)
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Dex R. Jones, Les Dandettes (2010).  Courtesy of the artist.

Dex R. Jones, ARE ALONE (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

Wrap the goddess (2010)
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Dex R. Jones, Wrap Goddess (2010).  Courtesy of the artist.

Dex R. Jones, Wrap the goddess (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

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