Todd Jones turns discarded house paint into stratified sculptures

The Ohio artist's sustainably sourced work, with themes of consumerism and domestic life, is on display at Emergent Art + Craft in the Short North

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Work by Todd Jones at Emergent Art + Craft

When the pandemic shut things down in 2020, Todd Jones was working on his MFA in painting and drawing at Ohio University. All of a sudden, every school activity moved online, which meant he no longer had access to an artist studio. So, Jones decided to temporarily return to his home state of Florida, where his parents have a few secluded acres — perfect for quarantining.

While most businesses in the area closed for a time, stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s remained open. Homebound residents seemed to be working on more DIY renovation projects, and Jones began to notice a bigger-than-normal stockpile of rejected paint cans, known as mistints or “oops” paints, which dissatisfied customers returned to the store because they didn’t like the color or the finish.

“I started thinking about these paints as intentions. They had a previous life. They had previous intentions. They were kind of like lost hopes and dreams,” Jones said. “I started collecting those and making work out of them, and I became interested in consumerism and how we are constantly buying products to improve ourselves.”

Jones stayed in Florida for about five months before returning to Athens, where he began collecting mistints from Southeast Ohio, as well as discarded paint cans from the basements, garages and closets of friends and neighbors in the Athens community. From the paint, Jones made sculptures for his thesis exhibition, and a portion of work from that show is now on display at Emergent Art + Craft in the Short North.

Work by Todd Jones at Emergent Art + Craft

Jones, who briefly lived in Columbus before studying at Ohio University, had sculpted with paint previously, but this series became something entirely new. First, the artist builds a wooden tray three to five inches tall that serves as a mold for the paint, which he pours into the tray layer by layer. “Every time I pour a layer of paint, I usually let it dry for about two to three days, and then when that layer dries, I go in for another layer,” Jones said. “A lot of my practice is waiting around for paint to dry.”

Once the stratified paint slab is sufficiently thick, Jones removes it from the mold and begins to carve it with a saw or Dremel tool, turning the slab into sculptures that resemble colorful canyons and topographical maps. “Carving into these pieces is almost like being an archaeologist trying to understand our culture,” Jones said. “I see it as a way of excavating to reveal the layers of understanding of these past intentions of the paint.”

Jones also embraced the sustainability concepts embedded in the work. Mistint paint often goes to waste, and many homeowners don’t know how or where to properly dispose of old paint. “A lot of people don't want to deal with that, so they just leave them in their basements,” Jones said. “I've been using my [art] as a way of proper disposal.” 

Jones also reuses his own leftover paint. On one of Emergent’s walls, white frames display smaller pieces that were cut from larger molds. “We put things that are precious to us behind glass. We frame artwork; we frame pictures in the home and in museums. I felt like putting these behind glass makes it more of a precious object,” said Jones, who oriented the frames “in a way that you might see in a domestic space, like you could walk into someone's home and see this arrangement.”

Work by Todd Jones at Emergent Art + Craft

Even the tiny paint shavings that collect during the carving process get put to use, combining with resin in molds that Jones makes from picture frames, mirrors and small shelves he salvages from thrift stores. At Emergent, an ornate, blue-speckled frame filled with translucent resin resembles a cracked, antique mirror while a larger frame nearby is marbled with soft grays and vibrant reds. “I wanted them to look like these archaeological objects that maybe have been found in the ground,” Jones said. “I wanted them to look like objects from an earlier time.” 

On another wall, Jones mounted five rows of five paint can lids, which he refers to as “the remnants.” The installation serves not only as a color palette for the work in the show, but as a visual reminder of the physical objects that would have otherwise gone to waste. “What would happen without my intervention? Would those end up in streams? Would they pollute the environment?” said Jones, who also wonders about the stories behind the lids. “Where was that color originally supposed to be? Was it supposed to be someone's bathroom, someone's closet, someone's walkway or entryway or living room?”  

The concept of memory runs through every aspect of Jones' work. His use of construction tools, for instance, recalls his time growing up in Florida. “My parents both helped with building my childhood home, so I have knowledge and experiences of them working and building. I was always interested in these constructions of our interior spaces,” he said. “I got really interested in installation work because I felt like I could bring more of those tools and my past experiences in with them.” 

At Emergent, Jones has noticed gallery visitors making similar personal connections to their relationships with domestic spaces and their memories of home. “I had a lot of people in Columbus during the opening talk about their childhood experiences and their childhood homes,” Jones said. “Everyone can bring forth something that they have experiences with in the work.”