Michael Jones is a steel sculptor from Bigfork Montana, who has been participating in the Celebration of Fine Art for the past 23 years. Although his work is diverse, spanning contemporary twisted reed sculptures and towering totems to custom gates and fire screens, each piece exudes strength and simplicity.
A craftsman through and through, it’s hard to picture Michael as anything but an artist. But in this interview, Michael shares his journey from government welder to fine art sculptor and how he’s learned to follow his heart in the creation of large metal works that capture movement, texture and light.
How did you get started in art?
I was always creative. I was a kid that painted the windows for the holidays and I did some ceramics and watercolors, too. But in high school I started working with metal, and that was it for me. I started doing sculpture from that point on.
I started out as an artist, however, it didn’t pay the bills. So, I pursued a welding career. I became a nuclear-certified welder for the US government for the MX missiles and Triton subs. I continued to do sculpture on the side, but I’d have to do shows within 500 miles so I could get back to work on Monday morning.
I did that for a number of years, and then one day I couldn’t do both. As naive as this may sound, never once did I consider doing art as a business. I made all the money I needed to make with the government. I did art because I was passionate about it. I was apprehensive about taking that step because I just didn’t want to lose my passion, but here I am, 30-plus years later, and it was a good move.
How has your art evolved over the years?
My work is evolving all the time. I think it’s a natural thing in being an artist. I’ve moved toward simpler lines and architecture, being inspired by more contemporary elements. I feel there’s great strength in simplicity.
Currently, I am working on some pieces that I think are probably a little bit more industrial-contemporary. Every once in a while, I’ll get to break out and do something that I just want to do, so I’ve been doing some of that, too.
What is most challenging about your process?
Steel is considered a hard and a cold medium, and so what I really seek to do is to give steel life, energy, and movement. Some of the body of work I have –– some of the twisted pieces –– it’s all about movement. I also do a lot of textures.
I’m an old-school guy, so I do everything by hand. There’s no technology, no plasmas, lasers, or water jets. It’s just a good old oxy-acetylene torch or welder, forge and sweat. That’s the way it gets done.
What is your favorite thing about the Celebration of Fine Art?
It’s so much more than an art show. It’s a community of artists and collectors. We just love the energy here, and your collectors become friends. And that’s what the Celebration is about.
I went from doing 20-plus public shows a year all over this country to, now, just this show. I do so many commissions that I brought my clientele all over the country to this show. Who doesn’t want to be in Scottsdale this time of year? So here we are, and that’s what has evolved for me.