Interview with Jean Nagai

Could you give us a brief introduction to who you are and what kind of work you make?

My name is Jean Nagai, and I live in the country, outside of Olympia, Washington. I live with my partner and pets and new friends. I make work about a spiritual relationship with what is outside and also inside: a dot is a grain of sand or can be a distant star.

Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?

I get inspiration from walking around, the ocean, the night sky, bird sounds, and people. There are so many facets to this world, so much beauty and so much suffering. I think there is just so much energy out in the world, so much fluctuation of information and I just want to create a form of peace or calmness to counter this modern mess.

What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio? 

Good question. What can I live without? A desk? Music? I haven't lived without either of those things, I haven't taken them out of the space, so maybe I could work without them. A chair seems important but I could always sit on the floor if I wanted to rest. All my attachments are tangible objects. A lack of distraction is pretty good. Believing is also good.

What types of obstacles have you run into in your artistic practice and how do you go about navigating around them?

I just moved into my first studio since college (it's been 10 years). I've always worked in my bedroom and I imagined that my obstacles were living in my studio and being distracted by the day to day chores like taking care of my dog or cleaning up after others. Now that I have a studio outside the home, I realize all my obstacles were my fear of failure and wondering if I can survive in this world. I know fear is imagined, and sometimes I think my real obstacle is physical existence. 

What do you feel are the recurring themes in your visual work?  

Probably the circle is the most recurring theme because it is universal. It can be a sun, moon, sand, rice, womb, light, seed, it's so many things at once, or just a circle: 

W.Y.S.I.W.Y.G. (what you see is what you get).

 I remember reading a Ripley's Believe It Or Not story when I was eight, they said the number zero was invented by a blind Arabic mathematician who said that zero was a line encircling nothingness, and that has always stuck with me.

Is there a particular artist you feel you relate to? Who are your role models (artists or non-artists)?

I love the humans who are creating positive change under a great deal of oppression in this world - Black Lives Matter activists, feminists, trans musicians.

I really love the stain painters, Helen Frankenhaler, Morris Louis and Dana Dart-McClean

Leonard Peltier. 

What is the best piece of artistic advice you’ve been given?

Make art your job if you want to be an artist. 

Jean Nagai | Toward Space