How did you get into making art?
Looking back, I always secretly wanted to be a painter, but lacked the agency and means to pursue it until my late 20s. By then I had gotten my Industrial Design BFA and had worked perfunctorily for years as a graphic designer for a range of corporations to get by. So when I finally got into making art, it was a way to survive, because it gave meaning to my life. I started by taking some adult-ed painting classes at night after work for a couple years, through the Boston Center for Adult Education and Massart. Eventually my continued and dogged interest led to getting a Painting and Printmaking MFA from Boston University. My grad school class was the first time I felt like I was in a community of artists, people that I could truly relate to. I haven’t turned back since.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on several paintings and drawings that are a continuation of several themes I’ve been interested in: origin stories and creation mythology.
What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
In hindsight I think quarantining for so long during the pandemic caused me to zoom in to that which is microscopic and internal, as well as zooming very far out into space. I’m trying to envision where humanity’s place is in the order of the universe. And then from a more formal standpoint, I’ve always been interested in finding ways to convey an interesting space/form relationship in a visual composition because for me it’s one of the most challenging parts of painting. The idea of composing a painting that could collapse the space between the infinite and infinitesimal seemed like an especially challenging and meaningful space to depict.
In hindsight I think quarantining for so long during the pandemic caused me to zoom in to that which is microscopic and internal, as well as zooming very far out into space.
Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
Left to my own devices I like to make exploratory work, try out new materials and new ideas, but would probably never finish a thing! With a deadline I become much more focused on resolving a distinct body of work.
What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I’m not a full-time artist, so on my days off from my job I’m anxious to get as much work done as I can in my studio. I’m also not a night-person at all so I start working in the morning. That’s usually when I do my best thinking and feel the most faith in the work I’m doing. I like to work on several paintings at the same time and start off by working on the one that is the most exciting to me that day. A lot of the time I’m trying to figure out the content of a painting as I’m making it. I usually do intermittent sketches throughout the day when I need to figure out my next move. An iPad has recently come into my possession and I sometimes try out colors for paintings with it before I apply any more paint. I work almost exclusively additively, with paintings requiring dozens of sittings before they’re resolved. Because of that the working time for a painting can vary from weeks to months and even years. As a result the surface has become built up, to the point where the materiality of the paint contributes its own emotional content.
Who are your favorite artists?
It changes over time but here are some: Elizabeth Murray, Bonnard, Joan Browne, Giotto, Judith Linhares, Goya, Titian, Mike Cloud, Peter Saul, Forrest Bess, Seurat, Arthur Dove, Inka Essenhigh, Stanley Lewis, George Braque, Leger, R. Crumb, Albert Ryder, Marsden Hartley, David Park & Charles Burchfield.
Where do you go to discover new artists?
Lately it’s been instagram and the Seesaw app. I also love just about everyone that SHRINE gallery shows.
J.A Feng is an artist based in Brooklyn who was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist: