Ronni Jolles describes her unconventional method as “painting with paper”: Using a variety of sizes and colors, she layers sheets of paper to create depth in her pieces. Tearing, cutting and painting details are all strategies she uses to add interest and shape to her work. Many of her pieces are inspired by elements of nature and her Jewish upbringing. Located in the Washington, DC area, Jolles’ art exhibit, Rough Around the Edges: Works in Paper by Ronni Jolles, will be on display at the Bodzin Art Gallery in the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia through November 28. She spoke with Moment about where she gets her inspiration, her artistic process, and her relationship with Judaism.
Why is paper your favorite medium to work with?
Paper, in its multitude of colors and textures, is the essence of my work. I gather papers from all over the world, and each kind of paper has its own color, texture or pattern. I have papers from such places as Thailand, Tibet, Nepal, Egypt, China, Japan, Mexico and the Philippines, to name a few.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I have found inspiration in clotheslines, trees and flowers, villages by the water, water scenes and countless other moments that I try to capture in my art form. My Jewish upbringing inspired a series of Judaic work.
Another thing that has impacted my artwork, and my choice of medium, was my quest to find my own voice and my own medium. As a child of an artist, I grew up with colors, textures and techniques of others, but in searching and developing my own style, I found the best of all worlds in paper. Here was a sculptural medium to satisfy my tactile nature, offering limitless possibilities for color and a story of its own to add depth to the meaning of each piece. When I discovered paper as my medium, a whole new textural world opened up.
How did you come up with the idea to layer paper to create art?
I call it “painting with paper.” I was an art educator for 20 years, and the experience of teaching many different media—drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking—influenced my unconventional way of using paper as the primary medium of my art form.
What is your process for creating each art piece?
I begin with a sketch and an idea of what kind of subject I want to work on. I then find the papers that have the color and texture I’m looking for in that particular piece. I cut, tear and layer the papers to create uniquely textured scenes. Acrylic paints and sealants are then used on top of the papers to add more variation in color, to bring out textures and to protect the paper. Sometimes, I’ll use fabric in my work, and if needed, colored pencils, pen and ink or found objects.
I do something unique: After I’ve finished and framed my originals, I put a packet on the back that has samples of the particular kinds of paper that I used in that particular piece. Since my art form is very new and different, I wanted to let the owners of my works know exactly that they have a one-of-a-kind piece. This is especially true since I can’t always get the papers that I have: Many of my papers come from little rural villages, and they don’t always produce the same papers.
Another thing: This is a “green” art form. Although in this country, we cut down trees to make paper, other countries use renewable resources to make paper.
How long does each piece take?
I have never wanted to figure out how long—I think it is many hours!
Why did you start making art relating to the Jewish life cycle?
In 2012, I received a call from a gallery in California; the gallery manager had seen my work on the internet and wanted to know if I would consider creating a body of Judaic work. I would be given a large solo show in a beautiful gallery space in the Peninsula Jewish Community Center outside San Francisco. I asked for 14 months to create the work for the show. I created work about life cycle events, Jewish holidays and my trips to Israel. After I had a successful show at that JCC, I showed this Judaic work in galleries and JCCs across the country.
Would you consider your art an expression of your Jewish faith?
Many of the Judaic pieces I’ve created are capturing moments or feelings that I find meaningful and spiritual. Depending on whether the artwork is trying to capture a moment in Jewish history, or a Jewish holiday, or a life cycle event—I have to explore my own feelings, and I need to find inspiration in order to create meaningful work.