How urban expressionist Michelle Jones finds beauty in the imperfect while creating art that affirms
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many felt disconnected from family, friends, and the activities that brought them joy. For Michelle Jones, this was the launchpad to hone a new skill and find her voice during a troubling time.
Michelle, who recently celebrated eight years at Hennepin Healthcare, is a Senior Revenue Cycle Management Representative. Her work includes billing follow up and denials for government-based programs. Although she has spent much of her career in healthcare, Michelle has always pursued creative hobbies. Before the pandemic, this included working as a makeup artist.
When COVID ultimately forced Michelle to close her makeup business, it left her without a way to express how she was feeling.
“I was grieving that year. There’s no better word for it, and it was a time of uncertainty for us…that was the first time I’d ever really experienced a shaking in the medical field,” says Michelle. “It was an extremely hard time, and I had no outlets.”
Michelle had a portfolio of portraits of the faces she’d done makeup on. Finding she had more time on her hands during lockdown, Michelle decided to try painting some of those faces.
“They weren’t great, but that’s where it started for me…it was very bad, but I kind of went, ‘Man, I want to do this, I want this to be good,’ so that’s what sparked all my YouTube research – it was a spiral from there.”
This spiral led her to enroll at the Milan Art Institute in 2021 where the curriculum not only included the fundamentals of drawing and painting, but also a course called Finding Your Voice that Michelle found especially impactful.
“It really has nothing to do with your painting skill at that point. It’s you and investing time and looking back over your life and figuring out what you’re attracted to and why you’re attracted to it. It’s looking at your struggles head on and painting the victory on the other side of those struggles…It was an emotional journey, but it was also very necessary after going through 2020.”
Finding her style
As an artist, Michelle considers herself an urban expressionist – in other words, finding the beauty in what she sees around her in her own life. She keeps a variety of sources to use as inspiration for her paintings, usually in the form of portraits and photographs.
“I think that sometimes, living in the cities or in any large city or what’s considered urban neighborhoods, beauty isn’t always perceived in those areas. But I feel like there is still so much beauty in the graffiti and things like that…my goal would be to take urban inspiration and put it more at a fine art level.”
Creating art that affirms
With the goal of depicting the unique beauty of urban life, Michelle feels a special connection between her work as an artist and Hennepin Healthcare’s mission of equitable care – serving a community just as diverse and vibrant as her paintings.
“I did work on campus for quite a while, and the representation that you see not only in the patients but in the staff at the hospital shows that the hospital really has a heart for the community…I’m proud to work for this company. I see a correlation [between my work and Hennepin’s] in not just the patients, but in the staff, in the people that serve the community, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Not only is representation a theme within her work, but also creating art that affirms the viewer. In other words, helping them accept the beauty within their imperfections.
“Maybe my painting on your wall can affirm that everything you are is OK and it’s still beautiful despite the imperfections and the flaws. It took me a long time to get to that point, to be able to be affirmed as a black woman. I just want to affirm other people – not just black women, women in general.”
Discovering your creative outlet
When asked what she would say to others looking to discover their own creative outlet, Michelle offered this advice: Try everything and see what sticks.
“I wasn’t good at painting – I had to learn to paint. If there is something that is truly tugging at you, try it…nobody can tell you that what comes out of you is right or wrong.”
Michelle also stresses that even if you aren’t good at something initially, you can take the time to build those skills.
“I had something in me that I needed to come out, but I wouldn’t have known that if I wouldn’t have at least made the effort. You may not naturally be good at something, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve something that you set your heart to. Anything you set your mind to I believe you can achieve.”
Later this year, Michelle hopes to host her first solo exhibition and is planning to attend the Milan Art Institute’s annual conference. You can learn more about Michelle and her work at michellejonesart.com.