Q&A with Tim Okamura: A Painter with a Purpose

Q&A with Tim Okamura: A Painter with a Purpose

SCA Close Up: News and Events From the School of Visual Arts
School of Visual Arts, New York, New York

An eclectic heritage, a penchant for hip-hop, and life as an artist in New York City set Tim Okamura (MFA 1993 Illustration as Visual Essay) on a path toward social consciousness. Collected by celebrity clients (including Uma Thurman, Questlove and John Mellencamp) and exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery in London, his portraits are meant to “contribute a positive voice to the conversations going on today.” Okamura’s paintings in “The Pond, the Mirror, the Kaleidoscope” depict a trio of female boxers, suggesting women’s plight for equality and justice.

SCA: You’re known for your paintings of African American women.  You’re half-Japanese, half-Caucasian and you grew up in Canada. Many of your paintings celebrate the New York street scene. How did this juxtaposition come about?

Tim Okamura: It’s a question that comes up often—and it’s really not a short answer for me—and it’s very intriguing to me that there are people who tend to find the juxtaposition of the work, and who I am, quite “conceptual.” It’s something I hadn’t fully considered when I began making the work. The idea that there would be an intertwining assessment of both model and artist when looking at the work was vaguely in the back of my mind, but it never influenced my choices. As someone who has focused primarily on portraiture up to this point in my career, I think the biggest factor in choosing my subjects has always just been a deep interest in the “stories” of the people I paint. I consider portraiture a form of story-telling as it relates to the subject, and I really wanted to discover or reveal to my audience stories that I felt were compelling, and perhaps had not been told previously…

…I think there is an additional layer of psychological interest for me in that my vision is filtered through the lens of my personal experience as someone of mixed race growing up in Canada. I was often identified as being “different” and even persecuted for this perception. As a result, I tended to form friendships with minority kids and anyone who might have felt excluded from the “mainstream.” This has had a significant impact on my view of the world, my desire for social justice and equality, and my long-standing motivations as an artist who is interested primarily in people…

Read the entire interview here.

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