The subjects in Jay Miriam’s paintings aren’t scaling mountains, battling villains, or doing anything particularly extraordinary. In fact, they’re often sedentary — but are also enormously compelling. The Greenpoint-raised artist enjoys capturing people between moments, giving life to a moment of pause and making the mundane near mystical. Or, in her own words, “I’m interested in painting and celebrating beautiful moments we experience in our day-to-day.”
Greenpointers: You were born and raised in New York. Have you long been in Greenpoint? What’s your relationship to this neighborhood and where do you normally work out of?
Jay Miriam: I spent my childhood in Greenpoint, and I moved back immediately after college. I remember looking at apartments in the city at the time, but there was an internal pull to return to Greenpoint. I love it here. I’ve been in my current studio for almost 10 years. It’s a charming railroad apartment that opens into a beautiful garden with two large peach trees. I planted honeysuckles last summer and it seems they are beginning to take. I also planted blueberries, raspberries, and a spread of herbs. I like to think of my studio as a cottage, like in the novel The Secret Garden.
Your artwork envisions quotidian moments in people’s lives through a slightly abstract, or perhaps gently poetic, lens. I love this sentence on your website: that you’re “interested in moments of lingering time, when we are so much caught in a routine that we pass time without thought…from brushing our teeth, to getting trapped in small talk, to waiting for our date to arrive at the bar.” Do you often find yourself aware that you are in such moments, or is it easy to see others in these moments?
Both. I think everyone experiences moments of pause. I find them to be beautiful, it’s when we are so used to a movement, routine, habit, that for a moment we forget ourselves. In general, I’m interested in painting and celebrating beautiful moments we experience in our day-to-day, in the mundane, that don’t receive a celebration or a trophy, but are celebratory none the less. I add elements of humor to all of my work, and they eventually become inside jokes (or secrets) that are shared between the painting and the viewer.
You paint from memory, and your paintings take months to complete. Since you are not relying on a photograph, does your memory of the tableau you’re creating change? Or rather, does your present-tense emotion color the work of something you are trying to capture?
Once the initial underpainting is completed, the paintings are swept away into an independent life force, where each layer of color dictates the emotion and composition of proceeding layers. The colors in the painting, the forms of the figures, the composition and how the background relates to the foreground, are all elements that must come together. It’s like trying to solve a riddle. There are a lot of mistakes, experiments, and moments of spark where you do something and think, “That’s it, it’s done!”, but it’s not because then you notice another piece that’s missing, and you’re back to painting.
I feel like there’s such a fullness to your paintings: the bodies take up a lot of space on the canvas, teem with life, and exude a great warmth and vivacity. I get the sense that you really dig your subjects, whether they’re real or imagined?
Thank you! Yes! It’s important that the figures, although living in an abstract world, have a relatable emotion that is real and raw, and that their voices extend beyond the canvas.
How has the pandemic altered your process, if at all? How have you been hunkering here in Greenpoint?
It has — but it will take time for me to fully process everything before I can understand the changes. I was in full isolation with my husband and our newborn for 15 months, painting when the baby slept, which was a few minutes every hour or so (over a 24-hour period), rather than one long stretch. I always have my paintings in the back of my mind, and in between the busy moments, I would think about what shade of red would best match a blue, etc. I had to paint in my head a lot, because canvas time was very limited.
Brag a bit! What are some cool artistic opportunities you’ve had that you’ve treasured?
It’s cheesy, but I’ve treasured every opportunity, show, and person I’ve met along the way. I don’t want to take anything/one in life for granted, and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to share my work, and to do what I love.
Any shows or events to discuss? Anything else you want to add? Thanks for the time!
Yes! I have a lot of really exciting shows coming up in 2021 and 2022. I’m not able to disclose details yet, but will be posting updates to my Instagram, @jayymiriam. I’m also very excited to open my studio in September to teach children painting and drawing lessons. I’ve been working with children since 2009 through schools and artistic programs, and strongly believe in the importance and benefit of an art education. I’m excited to begin teaching in line with a classic atelier setting — it’s where each child works independently, on either a drawing or a painting, in a group setting — and to see them grow in their skillset and confidence.