By Taylor Renner
As a young girl, Keller Jones was a typical barn rat.
Copying drawings she found in equitation books growing up was the first sign that she possessed another passion besides horses: She had a passion — and gift — for art.
Keller took her first painting class in the fifth grade and continued to draw and regularly ride and show in the hunter/jumpers through high school.
“I could always draw, I knew that,” said Keller. “Even in high school, we had an assignment to draw our living rooms and I got it so spot-on that within five minutes I was bored because it was too easy for me. I guess it was just an intuitive thing, but I knew how to define the foreground by drawing the background, etc.”
After high school, Keller went on to earn a bachelor of fine art in graphic design from the University of Georgia (UGA).
Well known for her animal portraiture work today, Keller first started drawing horses and animals while at UGA.
“My first painting in class was titled ‘The Aiken Field’ and the teacher just zeroed in on it and said, ‘This is what I’m talking about!’ ‘The Aiken Field’ was my idea of all of the equine sports available in Aiken, South Carolina: showing, jumping, hunter/jumper, flat racing, harness racing, polo and barrel racing,” said Keller.
“The Aiken Field” caught the attention of officials in Aiken, South Carolina, and even graced the cover of the Aiken telephone book one year. A framed print of the painting was also given to Secretary of State James Edwards as a welcome gift from the Chamber of Commerce while visiting Aiken.
Once Keller graduated from college, she became a freelance painter and painted horse commissions while traveling to circuit shows, selling prints of her paintings out of the trunk of her car. She went back to school and earned two master’s degrees: a master of liberal arts in fine art from Spring Hill College and a master of arts in cinema studies from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
After working a variety of jobs while still keeping up with her art, Keller moved to Savannah, Georgia, with the intention of becoming a cinema studies professor. When that didn’t work out, she turned back to painting.
“I was so mad that I had to do a painting because I moved [to Savannah] thinking that I was going to be teaching film full time,” said Keller. “So I pulled all of my paints and my easel back out and I just threw the paint on the canvas and stood back and the painting was fabulous. It was probably better than any painting I’d ever done, and it was just this little painting of a dog named Fred who was deceased.”
The miracle of “Fred” motivated Keller to start her portraiture business in Savannah — Keller Jones Fine Art and Portraiture. She also began teaching film studies at a local educational center.
Keller currently paints pet, horse and human portraits on commission, as well as Southeastern landscapes.
“I’m probably equally as well known for landscape painting as I am for equine painting and portraiture,” said Keller. “I definitely enjoy painting horses the most because of their power, size and complex bone structure. Horses are, to me, synonymous with mountains. They represent courage, power, beauty, finesse, grace and strength all in one object. They’re so magnificent.
“Landscape is romantic and highly spiritual,” Keller continued. “I developed my love for nature and landscapes from trail riding. Being with your horse in the woods … it’s sacred. My landscape painting is very loosely structured; I’m not as concerned with identifying a type of tree as opposed to the horse paintings, which are more realistic. The horse paintings tend to be more about the relationship between the client and the horse, and I’m very detailed with those works. I like doing the loose stuff but most people want to be able to recognize their horse’s eyes and their markings, so it’s really important to have the markings in the right place. It’s just the coolest thing in the world when you start drawing a horse.”
Keller has worked in almost every medium of art but primarily works in oil and pastel now. What really inspires her to paint the most, however, is music.
“Music is, I think, the most universal force of communication on our planet,” said Keller. “It doesn’t require words. Music moves me to dance which moves me to want to touch something so that’s why I paint. I use my hands a lot in my paintings. It becomes unconscious and that’s when you’re in the zone — when your heart and your soul have taken over.”
Keller’s favorite paintings at the moment are her most recent landscape and equine paintings: “September” and “Sara.”
Although Keller doesn’t ride much anymore, she still has very fond memories of her days in the saddle with one particular horse named Apache.
“Apache wasn’t the most attractive horse on the planet; he had this giant roman nose but he was extremely intelligent and that’s why I liked him, because we understood each other,” said Keller. “We went to a hunter/jumper horse show in Aiken and we won our class! Apache flew in the air like he was made of gold and he did that with every jump — he threw his heart out for me! I was 16 and I was on top of the world. I remember the number on my back, it was 16, and I remember how it felt having that number tied around my waist. I will just never forget that — that’s the most courageous I’ve ever been in my life. That was the single greatest moment of my life where I had absolutely no fear — I just threw everything I had out there. It was pure magic.”
In the future, Keller plans to do more landscape paintings incorporating some new techniques as well as continue to do portraiture work. As Keller continues to grow and learn more about herself as an artist every day, one thing is for sure: her paintings will always reflect her passion for animals and art, which first sparked inside her as a young girl.
“I think the rest of the year is going to be pretty amazing,” said Keller. “It’s already starting to look pretty amazing. My work has doubled in quality. I just think it’s going to be an incredible year; I already know it.”
For more information on Keller Jones Fine Art and Portraiture, visit www.kellerjones.com.
About the writer: Taylor Renner is a 2015 graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S.A. in agricultural communication and a minor in animal science. She’s ridden and shown in the hunter/jumper and equitation disciplines for 12 years and is an avid photographer and writing enthusiast.
Photos courtesy of Keller Jones