Local Artist Jason Adkins on Painting, Sculpting and “Creating Happiness”
While the tones of Phoenix artist Jason Adkins’ paintings can often be muted to complement interiors, they’re standing out after being featured in the Restoration Hardware catalog and Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North. He even crafted a painting for a forthcoming episode of Netflix action dramedy “Obliterated.” Adkins, who paints using the wet-on-wet technique, will usually create his large-scale textural works in one shot: “Once I start a painting, I’m not going to stop until I’m done, because the way the paints mix, they all have to be fluid for me to attain what I want,” he says. “That’s probably the reason why I make so much art.” We caught up with the artist—who also does sculpture—about his work.
How did you get into art?
Ever since I was little, my mom told me I would go outside and just make things with mud, water and clay. I always liked being by myself and figuring things out. I was more of an introvert than an extrovert. I painted and took art classes throughout high school and college. The turning point for my practice came in high school when my art teacher noticed that it would take me two weeks to draw a still life. I was taking my time with everything. She wanted to try something different. One day she said, ‘OK, grab some paper, grab five colors, a mirror and meet me outside.’ She said, ‘You have 15 minutes to do your self-portrait. Go.’ So, I had to use these five big oil pastel colors. Then, she came out and said, ‘Do it again.’ That is how I work today. I work wet on wet, meaning it’s a start-to-finish thing. Once I start a painting, I’m not going to stop until I’m done, because the way the paints mix, they all have to be fluid for me to attain what I want. That’s probably the reason why I make so much art. I happened to get into Restoration Hardware, with them making prints of my work. That was through General Public, which is a company owned by (former actress and wife of Ellen DeGeneres) Portia de Rossi.
What’s it like having your work there and taking on commissioned work?
You have to have this personality switch. One is painting and the other one is design. There is a pretty solid difference. My design work is much simpler. Some of the pieces are all black, and some of the pieces are all white because neutral colors are where it’s at – they can go with anything in your room. They’re not screaming, ‘Hey, look at me.’ They’re playing off other elements in the room.
You also do sculpture. Do you find it complementary to your painting?
Yes, as far as texture goes, but it is more design-based. I like to pick things that most people have seen in their lifetime … and make it strange and tilt on the seesaw. As an example, I have “David,” from David and Goliath. He’s there in his pose, he’s nude. I put UGGs on him, so he’s just naked with boots.
Where do you find inspiration?
As far as contemporary artists go, Philip Guston, Anselm Kiefer and, as far as sculpture goes, I learned to take famous pieces and turn them sideways from my graduate-school teacher Rachel Lachowicz.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I want someone to look at the work and say, man, I bet he had a lot of fun making that because that’s really what it’s about. It is about creating joy and it is about creating happiness. My grad teacher said painting isn’t that hard, you just need to create something beautiful.
What’s your process like?
If I was doing a 6-by-9-foot abstract landscape, the mixing of the paint for the entire piece can take about an hour and a half. Putting down the first layer, all that paint can take an hour. When I start to do the initial mark-making and things start to progress and flow, then you have to pump the brakes. There is a lot of mark-making and then stepping back and looking, because I don’t want to overwork the painting. When I’m not physically painting, I’m writing down ideas, so that never stops.
Check out Jason Adkins’ work at jason-adkins.com