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Earl M. Jones

Earl Jones was born in Ogden, Utah in 1937. He is one of the most influential teachers and painters of the second generation of modernists in Utah. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Jones received studied under Alvin Gittins at the University of Utah where he earned a BFA in 1959 and an MFA in 1962. He received private instruction from LeConte Stewart. He received further education at the Art Students League in New York where Joseph Hirsch was a major influence.

His paintings show an unsentimental view of urban development's effect on the natural landscape—refineries, smokestacks, and land developers.   His wilderness vistas and rural scenes are painted with an intellectual approach to design, form, and color.  His paintings include Hills at Bear Lake (1981), and Durango Hills.

Biography adapted from Artists of Utah.

When Earl Jones was in elementary school, wandering the neighborhood, he came upon an artist working in his yard. Earl had never seen oil paints before, much less someone using them. Jones still has the same urge that rose in him on that summer morning more than 40 years ago—to get his hands into the cadmium yellow and crimson red.

A few years later, during a summer youth program at the University of Utah, he played hooky every day to explore the campus. He remembers sneaking upstairs in a building that he supposed was unoccupied. He was startled to see a man standing in a room painting a portrait of a woman. Jones was forever changed by that man's ability to interpret a living person in paint. He instantly knew he too would be a painter. As it turned out, that campus building housed the art department. And the artist? None other than Utah's premier portrait painter and Jones' future mentor, Alvin Gittins.

Jones is now one of the most acknowledged painters of figure and landscape in Utah. He was born in Salt Lake City in 1937. Growing up in northern Utah, he attended Ogden High School and then earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Utah under the direction of Alvin Gittins. After graduation in 1959, Jones attended the Art Students League in New York City. However, one year later, he returned to his home in Utah to further his education at the University of Utah. Earl Jones received his Master of Fine Arts in 1962, and joined the faculty of the art department at the U.

Seven years later, Jones left the university and joined the Salt Lake Art Center faculty. Since that time, Earl Jones has taught classes and workshops in Utah and New Mexico. His work can be seen in galleries in Utah, California, and New Mexico. Jones and his wife, Jill Backman, live in a former gas station which the couple bought and remodeled in the 1970s. The old garage bays serve as Jones' studio, where the hydraulic hoist has become a height-adjustable table. Jill Backman jokes about restoring the gas pumps under a sign reading Earl's Gas 'n' Art.

Although Jones was trained primarily as a figure painter and portraitist and still does figurative work, the landscape of Utah has increasingly caught his attention. As a freshman at the University of Utah, Jones studied under LeConte Stewart, who later became one of Jones' most significant influences. Stewart, a painter of restrained renderings of the Utah landscape, has for several generations now provided the eyes through which a number of powerful painters first really saw that landscape. In addition to being influenced by Stewart, Jones is also inspired by his ancestors, who were among the early Mormon settlers of Utah. He returns often to paint the places his ancestors settled and farmed.

Unlike many landscape artists, Earl Jones leaves in all the evidences of modern life, choosing to document “humankind's gradual encroachment upon the vanishing natural expanses of Utah, Nevada and the rest of the West.“ These paintings document what Jones says is the shifting of our attitude in the West toward valuing “landscape'' as a commodity–“real estate.'' Although simple in composition and sparse in textural application of paint, they are enriched by the absence of illustrated yearning for days gone by and heroic (or maudlinly poetic) mountain men and American Indians. “Facing the stark remnants of an abandoned homestead, I try to square off and look at my own history straight in the face,'' he says in defiance of sentimentality.

“I'm disgusted by romantic, sentimentalized landscapes,“ Jones says. “I suppose there's an irony there—I sometimes like painting gouges in the mountains made by bulldozers. As strange as it sounds, the violence of it is sort of compelling. I paint best when I paint what gets under my skin.“ This honesty in his approach has made Jones one of Utah's most popular and prominent painters. Too, like all successful artists, Jones has transcended the influences of his mentor, LeConte Stewart, to develop his own distinctive style. “At their best, Earl Jones' paintings, whether of a place or a human form, reveal something like the essence of their subjects, that elusive and most intimate demeanor that in people we call character,“ critic Robert Pack Browning once wrote.

Jones adds, “When a familiar subject is presented by an artist in a new way, [as Jones does] and it yet has the ring of truth to it, that means he has brought us forward a bit.'' The “new way'' Jones presents is his ability to gently help his audience visualize the natural treasure of the Utah land–as it is–in hopes of preventing, or at least slowing down, the continual loss of its open spaces to development. No polemics, just simple depictions of what's left of a quickly disappearing pastoral beauty.

“Jones' paintings,'' says exhibit-catalog essayist Will South, “stake a hopeful philosophical claim for subsequent generations. His view represents a viable alternative to the many current fatalistic scenarios of inevitable environmental and social decay.“Each picture can become a metaphor for hope. If we really open our eyes there are yet unpainted pictures out there that are even more wonderful than those already done.“ Says Jones. Southwest Art. September 1987.

Biography courtesy Artists of Utah.

Newspaper Articles

"A Gift of Art, Earl Jones Brings the Ring of Truth to His Paintings." The Salt Lake Tribune, February 5, 1995.

"Coming Up: Visual Arts: Gift of Art." The Salt Lake Tribune, January 22, 1995.

"Coming Up: Visual Arts." The Salt Lake Tribune, July 14, 1996.

"Painter Earl Jones and Art That Comes From Under the Skin, Painting One Step Ahead of the Developers." The Salt Lake Tribune, January 18, 2001.

"School notes." The Salt Lake Tribune, December 3, 1995.

"Utah Marquee: Visual Art." The Salt Lake Tribune, November 5, 1999.

"Utah Marquee: Visual Art." The Salt Lake Tribune, October 16, 1998.


Dunbier, Lonnie Pierson. ed. The Artists Bluebook: 29,000 North American Artists. Scottsdale, AZ.:, 2003.

Jones, Earl M. "A Search for the Mandrel." Thesis M.F.A., Department of Art, University of Utah, 1962.

Olpin, Robert S., William C. Seifrit, and Vern G. Swanson. Artists of Utah. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1999.

Rotary Club of Denver and The Colorado Historical Society. Denver Rotary Club's Artists of America. Denver, CO: Denver Rotary Club, 1990.

Southwest Art. Master Index 1971-1993. Boulder, CO: Southwest Art, 1993.

Southwest Art. Red Book Price Guide to Western American Art. Houston, TX: Cowles Enthusiast Media, 1997.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Art. Layton, UT: Peregrine Smith Books, 1991.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Paintings and Sculpture. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publishers, 1991.

 Last Modified 6/20/18