In Conversation: Quentin Jones

The In Conversation series celebrates the stories and style of pioneers across the creative industries. We explore their craft, from beginnings to breakthroughs, and uncover how their Cutler and Gross frames mirror their unique aesthetic. 

Art direction by David Hellqvist | Photography by Nuria Rius | Interview by Imogen Massey

Quentin Jones can’t be pigeonholed. As the London-born, New York-based multidisciplinary artist admits, “Honestly, I’m not very good at defining what I do.” Her aesthetic traverses boundaries, extending across illustration, photography, art, and film. One discipline bleeds into another to create an amalgamation that is distinctly and defiantly Quentin Jones.

Her stop-motion aesthetic emerged during a master’s degree in Illustration at Central Saint Martins, but that is just one layer of Jones’s resume. Prior to that, she had already graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Philosophy and carved out a modelling career, having been scouted at 15.

Jones’s client roster includes industry heavyweights from Chanel and Louis Vuitton to Apple and Diet Coke, but it was her self-made, self-portrayed ‘It Was Fine’ film that was the primary focus of our conversation. Created during lockdown, the mind-bending work reveals the incredible breadth of her artistry as she filmed, directed, edited, and animated her way through a surreal stream of consciousness. As Jones shared, “I was watching the entire world upside down on the news every day, so what’s a little bit of role play on a green screen by myself…”

Speaking from New York, Quentin Jones talks serendipitous starts, big ambitions, and the importance of embracing challenges.

Quentin Jones wears the Aurum 0002 aviator glasses.
Quentin Jones wears the Aurum 0002 aviator glasses in 24K Gold + 18K Rhodium.

CG: Your career trajectory has been far from ordinary, please tell us about this journey. 

QJ: None of it has been intentional. Going from Philosophy into Illustration wasn’t an obvious choice at all, and I think I was very lucky to semi-blag my way in having not done an art foundation or undergrad degree there. Whilst at St Martins, I started making stop-motion films. I was modelling at the time, and I’d sometimes mention it to the brands I was working with. That started to get the ball rolling, having a little bit of a foot in the door of the London fashion industry.  It was also around the time that people were becoming interested in videos online, with the boom of Youtube and the beginning of NOWNESS. I was there with my papery moving aesthetic, which felt fun in that environment because it seemed so handmade and tactile. With any story of success there’s quite a lot of serendipity that plays into it and that was definitely the case for me.

CG: You caught the attention of Chanel when you made a film about its nail varnishes…

QJ: Yep. That was another lucky thing. After Cambridge, one of my best friends and I moved to London together, we were 23/24 at the time, and she started working for a magazine. She looked after the online content and asked me if I could make a cut animation on Chanel’s new nail varnishes. There was basically no budget, but I was keen to do it. And that was a very important project in retrospect – it got different beauty brands looking, including Chanel. I went for some meetings with them in Paris and then started making videos for their beauty platform.

"Ultimately, you can't figure out what you love without figuring out what you don't love." - Quentin Jones

CG: If you could go back in time, would you change anything about your career journey?

QJ: I wouldn’t change anything, but I go through times thinking that I didn’t need to go to Cambridge, I could’ve got cracking earlier. I’ve also recently realised that I need to start doing stuff that really feels aligned with what I love, which is making films and art. But that then made me wonder whether I shouldn’t have wasted so much time doing my photography… But ultimately, you can’t figure out what you love without figuring out what you don’t love.  

CG: Can you describe your aesthetic in three words?

QJ: Graphic, messy, spontaneous.

Quentin Jones working on cut-outs in her home studio
Quentin Jones creating cut-outs from her home studio in New York.

CG: You’ve worked with some of the most iconic fashion houses and personalities, do you ever suffer from imposter syndrome?

QJ: Oh yeah, for sure. It’s always quite daunting when someone famous comes onto set and you – as the director or photographer – need to introduce yourself, make them feel comfortable and trust you in quick succession. You have to puff up your chest a bit. I don’t see how you can’t have a bit of self-doubt when you’re trying to push yourself. And that’s not a bad thing, because those are the projects that keep your work expanding.

CG: So, you’re someone who likes to be challenged…

QJ: For sure. And in the last year I’ve changed a lot of the ways in which I work. I’ve joined two new film production companies that work on large-scale projects. It’s kind of a new area for me, so stepping up and pitching feels a bit like I’m starting out all over again.

"Having a project that you keep dipping in and out of is a good way to avoid feeling creatively stuck." - Quentin Jones

CG: You’re the daughter of two architects, were you creative as a child?

QJ: Very much so. I was always making things, be that cooking up recipes in the kitchen or sewing things for my dolls. My mum also reminded me that I used to make stop-motion films using playdough and her camcorder. My dad is very much an artist as well as an architect and would take me on sketching outings. When we were living in Toronto, he’d take me to the Royal Ontario Museum and we’d draw the cactuses, and in Italy we’d go and sit on the walls around Lucca and draw all the trees and the people going by on bicycles.

CG: ‘It Was Fine’ is an incredible piece of work that you created during Lockdown. What was it like making the film in isolation?

QJ: I was doing a lot of self-shooting projects at the time, lots of commercial itsy-bitsy stuff. It was fine and I was super grateful that I wasn’t going totally bankrupt [she laughs] but it got me thinking about what I would love to be making. I was trying to teach myself a bit of 3D animation at the time and I did a video of myself for SKIMS where I managed to weave it in – I bought green paper from Target and pasted it over the back wall and somehow it worked perfectly! That made me think that I might be able to make something really cool, a few pennies started to drop. I bought a proper kit and studio lights and decided to make a full green screen bonkers film where I collaged all the environments. I was figuring out what I could do with all the things that I can do; it was an evolving process.

CG: How did the different personalities come to light?

QJ: My agent connected me with Angelo De Santo, an amazing stylist who sent me bags and bags of stuff and we did a try-on. And then Panos [Papandianos], a brilliant hairdresser, arranged for loads of wigs. They helped make it seem like less of a crazy project that I was just doing by myself. If it hadn’t have been the pandemic, it would’ve felt like the most bonkers thing.

CG: You once said that the project felt fake for a lot of the process, why is that?

QJ: I think whenever you’re working on something that’s ambitious and you’re the only person who can picture what it’s going to be – other people are just trusting you – it feels a little like the emperor’s new clothes, you know? It can feel like you’re just making it up. With the film, the concept that I’d create this 3-minute-long thing at home seemed so ludicrous that it seemed more likely to be untrue than true. Right now, I’m working on building my own brand and I 100% feel like I’m spending loads of time every day making shit up [she laughs]. I suppose that’s the imposter syndrome or something.

CG: What kind of brand is it going to be?

QJ: It will be art-meets-design, with objects and things for the home. It’s in the early stages but I’m hoping to launch around May next year.

CG: How do you balance opinions and feedback (be that from a brand you’re working with or comments on social media) while staying true to your vision?

QJ: You’re in a very specific agreement when you’re working on a branded project, so you have to follow their feedback. I found that difficult at the beginning because I thought of all my work as my art, but if you’re being paid by someone, they need to be driving it.

The social media thing is actually something that I’ve had to grow a thicker skin about. I listened to Rick Rubin’s ‘Tetragrammaton’ podcast recently, where he interviewed one of the head guys from Instagram. He was saying that people should use the app like they would a portfolio or website – as a way to work towards an end goal – and not worry about the comment and like counts. I’m now trying to have that mentality. I don’t need to place such high stakes on each project or post, they’re just stepping stones.

"With any story of success there's quite a lot of serendipity that plays into it and that was definitely the case for me." - Quentin Jones
A collection of Quentin Jones's artworks.
A compilation of Quentin Jones’s photomontages.

CG: I like that – using Instagram as a tool rather than a place to get validation.

QJ: Exactly.

CG: To go back to your aesthetic, there’s often a sense of irreverence, perhaps Miley Cyrus’s ‘Tongue Tied’ film being an extreme example. Where does this stem from, were you rebellious growing up?

QJ: My parents are very liberal, so there wasn’t anything to rebel against. But they are very funny, very quick-witted and, as a whole family we’re quite rambunctious. So, I wouldn’t say it’s rebellion but rather a sense of fun. I chose a career path that is not a ‘serious’ one, so it would be a shame to not have fun with it. I also think my style is born out of an element of laziness [she laughs], I like to do things quickly and expressively, the same as when I cook – I don’t follow recipes I just play with it and throw things in.

CG: Do you ever feel creatively ‘stuck’ and if so, how do you get out of it?

QJ: I don’t when I’m working on a specific project because I know that I need to just get started and do things loosely. But it’s a different story when I don’t have commercial projects on. I know that I should still be producing stuff but occasionally I can feel very uninspired and get into these negative loops. That’s why having a long-term project has been very helpful for me; now, on my down days I can think about what I need to be designing or progressing for my brand. Having a project that you keep dipping in and out of is a good way to avoid feeling creatively stuck.

A compilation of Quentin Jones's artworks
“For me, art needs to be visually arresting first.”

CG: Your work made me think of Hannah Höch’s montages and Man Ray’s surrealism – to what extent do you look back to look forwards?

QJ: A lot. Hannah Höch has always been a big inspiration, my dad introduced me to her when I was doing A-level art. I was always really into her work and that of the Dada-ists and Surrealists. For me, art needs to be visually arresting first and then I can become interested in the concept second. I find the turn of the last century and into Modernism a constant source of inspiration.

CG: You have a couple of Cutler and Gross frames; how did you first hear about us?

QJ: My dad has always gone to the Cutler and Gross stores in London, and his glasses are great; he wears your really circular ones. I started wearing glasses properly about 8 years ago and wanted to get a really good pair, so I went to Cutler and Gross in New York. The level of care there is amazing, everything is measured, and they make sure they sit and fit correctly.

CG: And finally, what’s next on the horizon?

QJ: The brand stuff is the big long-term project, but in the short term I’m hopefully working on some music videos, and art installations – that’s all being planned as we speak.

Quentin Jones pictured in her New York home.

Find out more about Quentin Jones’s ongoing projects and upcoming exhibitions here.