Mixed media artist Nola Jones (nee Wilkins) was born in 1938 in Adelaide, South Australia. An only child, she traces her cultural heritage to Celtic and Anglo-Saxon backgrounds from her great-grandparents, all of whom emigrated to Australia from Britain. At school she studied art until year ten and recalls always having an interest in making three-dimensional objects – puppets, decorative trays and baskets – as well drawing and painting.
After high school, in 1955 she took a job as a library assistant in the State Library of South Australia and later (1961-1963) studied part-time at the South Australian School of Art (SASA), Adelaide. It was at the Library that she first met her future partner, artist Alun Leach-Jones, who also studied at SASA.
In 1964 they moved to London where they married and set up studios for a couple of years. During 1964-65 Jones studied part-time at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, and took the opportunity to travel around Europe with a particular interest in seeing as much art as possible. When they returned to Australia in 1966 the couple lived in Melbourne, where they remained until 1977.
From the mid 1960s to the late 1980s Jones worked as a fibre artist, often making large three-dimensional wall works. In 1977, following Alun’s appointment as artist-in-residence at Macquarie University, they moved to Sydney. Jones concentrated on creating fibre works for the 1978 Tamworth Fibre Biennale in northern New South Wales, her first contribution to a group exhibition. Two years later, in 1980, she held her first solo show at Solander Gallery, Canberra. Throughout the 1980s Jones had several solo and group exhibitions across New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.
Nola Jones received Arts Council of Australia grants in 1980, 1983 and 1986 for, respectively, travel, professional development and special projects. She used the 1980 Travel Grant to live in West Berlin, her brief being to seek out fibre art works commissioned for public spaces in Germany. In 1981 she travelled to New York, where she set up a studio and spent as much time as possible seeing the contemporary art of America. Jones moved back to Sydney in 1982.
A significant change occurred in her work in 1989 when she changed medium and began using molded and painted wood pulp to create abstract assemblages. These colourful and playful works were first exhibited in 1989 at BMG Fine Art, Sydney, and subsequently in numerous commercial, regional and university galleries in New South Wales, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and South Australia.
Whereas the fibre and wood pulp works were devised to hang on the wall, Jones’ third art phase saw her devise free-standing works, but still retaining the vibrant colours and forms of earlier pieces. Thus in 2007 she began making freestanding sculptures from mixed media of papier maché, metal, wood, MDF, plastic and found objects, with final layers in oil paint.
Jones’ closest artistic associate remains her husband, Alun Leach-Jones. She works regularly in her North Sydney studio.