Talented recipient of Hillsborough County Arts Council grant incorporates paint, thread, and activism to create striking art
Nneka Jones may be young, but she is going places in the art world. The Trinidadian artist has carved a serious niche for herself by creating vibrant mixed-media paintings and thought-provoking, socially conscious art. Her innovative use of thread and paint meld the fine art world with the craft realm, making her work as unique as it is visually stunning.
Mixing mediums to mold messages
What sets Jones' work apart from others is her masterful combining of stitching and painting to create colorful portraits. In fact, her threadwork mimics brushstrokes so precisely that the fiber can be overlooked - and presumed to be paint - if one does not see her work in person or zoomed in.
For Jones, the pairing of thread with traditional paints is highly deliberate. Her stitching adds interesting texture to her pieces and grabs people's attention. She is intentionally mixing mediums as a way to compel viewers to stop and scrutinize the surface of her canvases. As a result, a viewer is often provoked to observe and appreciate the artwork in its entirety, leading one to ponder the message behind Jones' portraits.
Jones understands that her work has profound meaning to viewers. "As I evolved as an artist and a student, I realized that people were not just connecting with my artwork because it was a pretty portrait, but because it made them feel something … it spoke to them in a certain way. And so, I learned that I was no longer just creating art that you could hang on the wall, but it was more so a powerful message or a powerful way of storytelling. And I used my art as a vehicle to captivate people so that they slow down. Because we're so busy, especially now with social media … it's difficult to just digest what an artist is putting out through their art," explained Jones.
Making a name in the art world, one stitch at a time
Though not even 30, Jones' talent has already been showcased on the cover of Time magazine. While still an art student at the University of Tampa, she won the Emerging Artist Award at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in 2019. More recently, Jones was awarded a Hillsborough County Arts Council Professional Development for Artists Grant for 2023. Jones believes the grant helped propel her career forward.
"For me to have that grant, it allowed me to not only focus on my work but ensure that I have the right equipment. I was able to purchase a laptop. That helps me to project my designs when I'm doing large-scale murals, to write business contracts, [and to] help me manage my website," said Jones.
Arts Council of Hillsborough County
The Hillsborough Arts Council provides a unified voice for all cultural organizations and activities in the Tampa and Hillsborough County region. The Arts Council promotes news about the cultural vitality of the community while providing grants, unified marketing efforts, research, and advocacy to help the cultural community thrive.
The Arts Council oversees the Professional Development for Artists (PDA) Grant Program, which provides support for specific projects that advance the careers of artists in Hillsborough County. It is an annual grant program that provides funding to emerging or established artists in a variety of disciplines. Currently, the Arts Council is looking for up to 15 more artists to receive funding through this program.
Top photo information: Nneka Jones poses in front of her artwork inside her Tampa studio