Getting serious about art
September is a busy month for Janice Nakashima. The Sacramento resident is showing a new series of small abstract paintings at Lumens Light + Living, plus greatest hits and B-sides, if you will, from previous series during Capitol Artists’ Studio Tour, the yearly event where local artists open their studios to the public en masse for a sneak peek behind the scenes and a chance to get up close and personal.
You’re a third-generation Japanese-American. Has your heritage played a role in your artwork?
I grew up here, so I was raised in pretty much a Western culture, and I didn’t really learn art growing up. My parents were also born and raised here, and if my work looks Asian—and I have been told my work looks Asian—I think it comes from that sensibility, and not any kind of learned tradition. … When I began to look at art, I did like a lot of the aspects of Asian art, but I didn’t consciously put them into my work.
You weren’t really encouraged to be involved in art growing up?
There wasn’t really any particular focus on it. There might have been the occasional art project at school, maybe once a year or something. But my dad actually did some graphic design, and I liked to watch him draw, but it wasn’t something he necessarily taught us or encouraged us in. … I liked to watch people draw. When I saw it, I just thought it was magic. I couldn’t really envision myself as an artist, but as I got older. … It gradually came upon me that that is what I would do.
What led you to decide to get into art then?
I had taught a little bit in a public school in Riverside [Calif.], and I did teach some art classes. It was a part-time thing. Then, I decided, “Well, maybe I’ll get serious about art.” And then went to Claremont [Graduate University], and that kind of focused me to be a studio artist, even though I thought I’d like to teach. But then we moved up here [29 years ago], and then, at that time, there just weren’t any teaching jobs. And then I had little kids.
How many kids?
I had two children, and they were two years apart. I kind of had them right after graduate school, so it wasn’t really possible to teach. … So I continued doing art, finding a corner in the house or in the garage or something, while they were growing up. I just did it for my own sanity. There’s a big gap of when I did exhibit—it was kind of impossible to produce stuff. In fact, my whole MFA show I threw away, because I didn’t have a place to store it.
That must have been heartbreaking.
Well, it was kind of tough, but on the other hand, to store it badly and to have it damage gradually, I couldn’t deal with that either.
Your portfolio contains lots of nature themes.
[The work on my website] is out of date. I like to experiment a lot. … I’m glad that I like to experiment and play. … But I’m glad to say that people do feel like there is some kind of consistency to the work. I was talking to an artist friend the other day, and I was showing these new little studies [to her] and said, “Oh, boy. Now I’m doing things with wire and screen material.” She said, “Don’t worry, I can still tell that it’s your work.”
Tell me about what you’ll be showing at Lumens.
I started to do some oil paintings on these little panels. … I used this series as an opportunity to play, and part of what freed me up was I decided to call it Studies. So I started not feeling so bound by an end product and using it as a chance to explore media. Sometimes I like to put words onto a painting, sometimes I like to scratch into a painting, sometimes I put wax on it, [use] wire and screen material. Transparency is one of the things that you’ll find in my work a lot.
And you’ll be participating in the Capitol Artists’ Studio Tour?
I live outside the mile boundary that open studios has, so this year—and maybe they’ve done it in other years, but I didn’t know about it—for artists who don’t have studios downtown, they can use spaces to display their work. So this is the first time I’m doing it. I might bring work from several different series.
Where will you be?
At the Maydestone Apartments on 15th and J [streets].
Do you get your own apartment to set up in, or will you be in the lobby?
Yeah, in an apartment … in No.5.
You’re going to have a busy weekend.
I know (laughs). It was a little unplanned. When I signed up for open studio [tour], I didn’t know when it was going to be. Then we found out it was going to be at the same time as the Lumens [show]. And I’m also preparing for a workshop at [Sacramento] City College.