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Arts & Culture
WYSO's Studio Visit is about Miami Valley contemporary artists and the ideas that inspire their work. The series is produced by Susan Byrnes from the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices

Studio Visit: 'Blue House'

Ashley Jude Jonas and Nicholas Arnold
Susan Byrnes

We meet two artists whose time together, as partners, colleagues, and collaborators is central to their creative and community life. Ashley Jude Jonas and Nicholaus Arnold talk with producer Susan Byrnes at their North Dayton home, also known as Blue House.

A little white dog named Daisy greets me at the door of Blue House. It looks like an ordinary house, and it is for the time being, but before the pandemic it had a different life.

"The Blue House was an artist residency and gallery for about seven years," said Arnold.

That’s Nicholaus Arnold, who lives here with his wife Ashley Jude Jonas. They came here, they thought temporarily, to help their friend give an abandoned house she bought a new start as an art center.

"And we started this project with her and started really rolling with it, and we’ve had more than 50 art exhibitions, we’ve probably had 30-some artists in residence," Arnold explained.

Artists would come and live with them in the house where they’d put together a new exhibition and show it in the living room, which they turned into a gallery. They did everything, including making the art for the show, in just one week.

So we were never working with artists in a way where we were all in our comfort zones necessarily. And so things were a surprise," said Jude Jonas.

That’s Ashley.

"For us, they were a surprise for the artist, and then hopefully for the people that came to see the show too, not what you would expect when you’re walking over the threshold of the door of a house," she said.

Like a garden growing up the walls, or floor to ceiling columns made out of Trix cereal.

Nick and Ashley did Blue House projects when they weren’t working their day jobs over at the University of Dayton art department. They spend a lot of time together, but they work on their own art alone.

Blue House
Susan Byrnes

The studio is that magic place where only the things that I’m seeing and discovering are what I’m hoping to pay attention to," Jude Jonas said.

Ashley collects found objects to use for sculptures.

"It’s just totally intuitive, it’s just things that I find beautiful or interesting or peculiar," she said.

She digs through her corner stack of wood to show me a favorite old board, but it’s hidden too deep. She can’t find it.

Nick’s work is more like performance art. In his studio he shows me a photo from the piece Art Fight where he and another artist battled over what their show should even be about.

“That’s us wrapped in crazy fighting outfits, covered in chocolate syrup as blood," Nic said fondly.

Sometimes Nick and Ashley have a show together.

"We did one called Till Death Do Us Part," Arnold said. "That had a lot to do with our love, and death, and the past."

He filled a giant wall with all sizes of paper bags stuck to it. The bags had ripped out holes for eyes. Ashley’s sculptures also included voids as backdrops.

"That was a really important exhibition for me," Jude Jonas said. "And it allowed me to make this connection between beauty and death. Like every moment dies, every experience of the sublime or any experience of love or beauty, the reason that we understand that it’s so big is because we know that it’s also gonna die. Yeah just working alongside of Nick and having the conceptual sort of bleed over into the aesthetic was pretty cool, actually, and I didn’t realize that until we were doing a presentation, and I was like 'Oh man! You know what?' "

And Blue House is still the foundation for their most important collaboration.

"So we’ve just had to think about how can we make projects happen that is not based in our house, like, 'What do we have now, how have our resources changed over time?' " Arnold said.

I think the heart of it though is that cross-pollination of ideas though. We want to bring people doing cool things not in Dayton to Dayton, and we want to show them how really awesome Dayton is. Which is exactly what they’re doing. They got a grant to do visiting artist shows in local galleries, and they’re leading a national symposium on artist-run spaces this spring.

Blue House is sponsoring Futures: A Symposium on Artist Run Spaces May 27-29. For more info go to artistrunspaces.org.