Q&A: Krista M. Jones paints path back from addiction in “Patchwork” exhibit

When artist Krista M. Jones celebrated her 50th birthday on July 2, it was a milestone — especially because she never thought she’d make it this far alive. Now at eight-and-a-half years sober from opioid and alcohol addiction, Jones considers these to be her “bonus years.”

It is out of that mysterious well of gifted time that she crafted Patchwork, a rich, complex and deeply personal solo show running through July 22 at the Hudgens Center for Art & Learning in Duluth.

An accomplished muralist, Jones — also known as Jonesy — is accustomed to planning out how her art interacts with people and places. When a visitor walks into the Fowler Gallery at the Hudgens Center and sees her 20 paintings there, it’s like walking through her struggles and grief, as well as her joy.

Krista M. Jones
Gallery visitor Dwain A. Vaughs II takes time to study Jones’ paintings. (Photo by Krista M. Jones)

Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Patchwork features audio recordings of Jones describing each piece and giving additional context. It’s part of an agreement with the NEA to make the exhibit as widely accessible as possible.

Jones is a visual artist, writer and musician — drums, vocals and strings. She is collaborating with Atlanta Contemporary Ensemble on a performance piece called Rising. Scheduled for spring 2024, it will pair contemporary chamber music and dance with three of her recent paintings.

ArtsATL recently walked through the Patchwork exhibit with Jones as she talked about addiction, getting sober and finding new possibilities within old canvases. She has at times painted over pieces she created in the 1990s when her life and mind-set were in a completely different place.

ArtsATL: You’ve lived all over the world since you were a kid. When did you make your way to Atlanta?

Krista M. Jones: I moved from Texas to Columbus, Georgia, in 1997. Atlanta was the closest big city, and I was spending a lot of time up here. I was involved in the experimental noise scene in the early 2000s. So I was coming up here to perform and work with other musicians. I moved here in 2007. In 2011, I left for four years and came back in 2015.

When I think about Atlanta now, I have a lot of gratitude. Because I came back to a city that almost killed me — literally. It’s interesting because I feel like I’ve lived two different lives in the same city.

ArtsATL: What was it about your recovery this time that made it stick for eight-and-a-half years? What brought you to this point?

Jones: I had to choose to change every f***ing thing in my life — every single thing. I had burned it all to the ground. I was destroying my relationships, family and friends. And it felt absolutely horrible and hopeless. My dad had offered rehab to me many times, and I had always said I’m not going to do it. I’m not ready. And if I say yes, I’m gonna be wasting my time and yours. Finally, I agreed to do an outpatient program and what I found with this particular addiction is it’s really challenging, especially when [substances] are still accessible to me. I ended up relapsing a couple of times in outpatient.

Krista M. Jones
Jones’ “Into the Void”

I agreed to go to an inpatient facility for 35 days, and I also agreed to six months of sober living after that. I was willing to do whatever it took. I was having to relearn life skills and how to live with people I didn’t know. I really immersed myself in [the recovery] community because I didn’t have anyone anymore. So it’s been a long process but in a short period of time.

ArtsATL: You’ve said you’re grappling in this exhibit with the past and present. Have you been able to directly dive into your own recovery through art in this way before? 

Jones: I have done work that speaks to recovery and addiction. But I feel it was too matter of fact. I am so process oriented that I don’t feel like it needs to be so blatant. There are nuanced things in this work, depending on who you’re talking to.

In Into the Void, for instance, you said you see flamingos, right? I’ve definitely had other people say that because of the [bright pink] colors. Are they flamingos? Not really (laughs).

ArtsATL: They’re like melted flamingos.

Jones: Exactly. Twisted and weird. But the funny thing is everyone I know in emergency management and the medical field doesn’t see flamingos. They see other things — body parts; organs; stuff like that. It just depends on where you’re coming from.

And that’s why in this work I am choosing shapes and figures. They could be multiple things. Sometimes [these images] happen unknowingly when I’m creating the work.

ArtsATL: What about this painting “Rising?” There’s an image here that could be seen as a spoon.

Jones: I didn’t intend for it to look like a spoon, but it does. And as a recovered IV drug user, I realize that’s a direct reference to something I might have used in that world. But did I intend on doing that? No.

ArtsATL: I also see veins or roots, but, the longer I look, it seems to fall into the themes that we’ve been talking about, the multiple pathways that a life can take.

Krista M. Jones
Jones in front of her work “Rising”

Jones: Exactly. It’s all of those things. I think that was the puzzle I was trying to solve. How do I pack all of these things in my head into one work and make it feel cohesive?

These are complicated paintings with a lot of information. I want people to be able to sit with it for a while, to have a conversation with it, figure out what it means to them.I also enjoy seeing new things in my paintings based on my conversations with people.

It’s exciting to find out what other people see in them. I’m in awe of the things they’re pulling out that I did not see or even intend.

ArtsATL: When people enter a new decade, they often ruminate on what’s to come and what this next phase will be. What are your hopes for your 50s?

Jones: I feel a lot of vitality and wonder. I am trying to live my life remembering the wonder that kids have that keeps them excited to learn and explore. Even though I’ve been doing this forever, I feel like I’m just getting started.


Alexis Hauk has written and edited for numerous newspapers, alt-weeklies, trade publications and national magazines, including Time, The AtlanticMental Floss, Uproxx and Washingtonian. Having grown up in Decatur, Alexis returned to Atlanta in 2018 after a decade living in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles. By day, she works in health communications. By night, she enjoys covering the arts and being Batman.

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