Open Studios: Meet Dex R. Jones, a Brooklyn-Born Photographer Whose Bold and Colorful Images Celebrate Black Beauty

Get a closer look at new artists' practices via digital showcases of their works.

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

Artnet Open Studios is a curatorial project produced by the Artnet Galleries team that grants underrepresented artists the distinct benefits of Gallery Network membership. This initiative widens the scope of discovery by featuring BIPOC artists who are actively expanding their online presence and collector relationships. Open Studios takes a closer look into the artists’ practices 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 expansive studies of Pan-African histories, Jones’s striking, even regal, portraits of Black women and men are often characterized by seductively saturated color. In these works, the artist celebrates forms of beauty in new ways, with his images detailing texture, hues, and flesh to convey a sense of vulnerability.

Below, we talked to Jones about his photographic practice.

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

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

Name: Dex R. Jones
Age: 34
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Current City: Brooklyn, NY
Medium: Digital photography

How did you find your way to the art world?
From a very young age I was interested in visual arts and artistic expressions. I used to spend a lot of time in front of the television when I was kid; watching cartoons and Disney movies on VHS. I liked to draw at the time, and I had dreams of becoming a cartoonist or animator for Disney when I grew up.

By the time I was in high school, it was all about anime for me. I was drawing anime characters all the time and attempting 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 wasn’t something that I ever envisioned myself doing. But others seemed to think that there was something there for me, and encouraged me to perform in the poetry recitals at school. And I think from there, I fell in love with the performance aspect of spoken word. From that point on, I was a spoken-word artist.

This was probably the first time I actually considered myself an artist. I had graduated high school, I was in college; and every chance I got, I went to different venues or open mics around the city to perform and make a name for myself. And I became a part of a community of writers and performers.

After doing poetry for a number of years, I began feeling a need to express myself in other ways that wasn’t so performative. And I had always had an interest in photography. I had taken a couple photography courses in college that required me to buy cameras. So even after I dropped out, I had these cameras sitting around that I thought I should make use of. I wasn’t particularly good in either of the courses I took. But I was fascinated by photography and how it all worked. It was fun to learn. So while I continued doing spoken word, I was also shooting and trying to get better behind the camera whenever I could. Until finally I felt confident enough in my skill to put down the pen and the mic for good, and pick up the camera as my new means of expression.

Describe your work in your words.
My work is very pro-Black, and that’s something that has carried over from my time doing spoken word—there was definitely a theme in my writing that was consistently pro-Black. But I didn’t feel that the message was as effective coming from a young kid yelling on stage as it could be with images. So with photography, I guess I was attempting to show, rather than tell. My work is also very feminine, which I do believe directly correlates to the heavily feminine presence in the household I grew up in. I think my work is quite moody as well. I’m a very moody person. I try to make my work encourage a feeling. There’s a lot of colors in my work, and heavy contrasts, which lends to all of that.

Who are your artistic heroes and why?
To be honest, for so much of my artistic career, I’ve looked at Black art as a means to Black liberation. I don’t necessarily believe that 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 ones; Nina Simone, Bob Marley, and Fela Kuti are a few others, who just happened to do music. Aside from that, I’m a fan of Andy Goldsworthy, because he works exclusively with nature. And I think every young Black artist in NYC has likened him or herself to Basquiat at some point in their lives. But if I were to say I had any artistic heroes, it’s really just anyone who is exceptionally great at what they do.

What are your greatest inspirations, art or otherwise?
I think my biggest inspirations right now are music and film. As for most inspirational, the one that most successfully marries those two art forms is the film Koyaanisqatsi by Godfrey Reggio, and all films by Ron Fricke.

If you could own any work of art in the world what would it be?
I’ve actually never thought about that before, but I wouldn’t mind going through the works of Jamilla Okubo, Marcus Leslie Singleton, or J.T. Liss and seeing what I can get.

 


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

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


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

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


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

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

 


A REAL ONE (2010)
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Dex R. Jones, The Dandettes (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

Dex R. Jones, A REAL ONE (2010). Courtesy of the artist.

 

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

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


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