The frame is the art for Roxbury artist Nygel Jones
Roxbury local Nygel Jones first held a fresh piece of wood at age 5. The young artist would follow his carpenter father around a job site, learning how to cut with the grain, make precise measurements and shape the wood to fit perfectly in each joint. Years later, this craftsmanship has become the cornerstone of Jones’ unique artistic style, one where the frame is the artwork.
After receiving a BA in interdisciplinary arts from Montserrat College of Art, Jones dabbled in sculpture and photography. But it was during a gig with a sign company in Boston’s Seaport District that inspiration struck.
“Being in the city and seeing this city skyline — I love buildings and architecture,” says Jones. “So I decided I’m going to pick up a paintbrush. And I started making surreal cityscape paintings and framing them in unorthodox ways.”
In those early years from 2017 to 2020, Jones would paint the cityscapes first and then create a unique frame around the painting. His work has since evolved into abstraction, paring his subjects down to shapes and colors. Now, Jones creates the shape of the frame first and the content follows. The experience of viewing Jones’ work has become more visceral and impactful in this new chapter. Instead of drawing close to the work to see the painted scene inside, viewers get the full punch of color and form from the first glance.
“I’m bending the rules of framing and showing that a frame isn’t square or rectangular. A frame is an encasing,” says Jones. “I’m taking advantage of that idea by encasing it in a shape where there are no geometric terms to describe it.”
The content of Jones’s work has shifted too. Otherworldly cityscapes dominated the interior paintings of his early pieces, often commenting on gentrification and architectural shifts in Boston’s landscape. Now, Jones will draw inspiration from line and color in simple everyday experiences. He’s created pieces inspired by breakfast, playing cards and lawn mowers, which in his work pulse with a newfound energy.
Jones says part of utilizing the structures of everyday life is about illustrating the shared human experience.
“I’m making work that people that people can kind of relate to, familiarize and connect with, that they probably experience every day,” says Jones. “It starts off from a line drawing to this bloomed-out physical thing in the end. It’s metamorphosis. It blooms into a colorful, beautiful-looking creature.”
That human connection is an important part of Jones’s social artistic practice as well. He’s displayed his work at Out of Many One People, a supper club run by chef Kendall DaCosta exploring flavors of the African Diaspora. Jones has also participated in ArtBattle, a friendly artistic competition that’s open to the public. Currently, his work can be seen at the at the LaiSun Keane gallery in the South End in the “Abstractionism” show that runs through Aug. 27.
“I’m discovering something new with every new piece that I create,” says Jones. “In abstraction there are no bounds. It’s like going beyond. It’s science fiction.”