A Place We Never Visited (2017)
"A Place We Never Visited" (2017) Photo courtesy Timothy Rysdyke

Jean Nagai’s paintings are a welcome sight among all the Seattle gray. They are not only vibrant but seemingly vibrating—his brilliantly hued naturescape paintings spreading a warmth that envelopes you. Even his cooler-toned works radiate a centering tranquility.

Close up of Molly Blue (2017)
Close up of "Molly Blue" (2017)

The LA-based artist’s most recent show With Spirits went up at The Factory last night. Guest curated by our Winter Art and Performance quarterly cover star Anthony White, the show features some of Nagai’s larger scale paintings alongside smaller pieces from his 100 paintings/100 days series. His work evokes nature—sunsets, oceans, mountain ranges, auroras—and also, somehow, the fuzzy sensation of looking at natural beauty.

“I don’t want to replicate nature, more just return the feeling I get from it,” Nagai told me. “Nature is like a projection. We project what our ideas of nature are, what we get from it, and for me it’s about my relationship of love—because nature is something I love.”

Nagai’s large paintings kinda look like one of those extraterrestrial-looking sand paintings or a really cool rug. You can tell they are textured even from far away. If you sidle up close to one, which I recommend, you can see a flatly painted scene in the background, on top of which Nagai has dabbed precise fat dots of brightly-colored paint. This gives his paintings an analog 3D effect, where light and heat shimmer across their surfaces, energy radiating from a mystical center.

Her Strength (2017)
"Her Strength" (2017)

Nagai tells me that this layering of background and foreground was inspired by marginalized people and those who did not have a space of their own. “They’re like two different elements coming together to create this new space where a person could have their piece and feel safe with art.”

The paintings from 100 paintings/100 days, a project dedicated to creating one new painting every day for 100 days, are much smaller. If you’ve ever had a picture of your aura taken (or, I should I say, been ripped off by someone claiming to take a picture of your aura) you’ll recognize the angelic quality of these works. Painted on raw canvas, the colors soak and disperse into the material.

Close up from one of 100 paintings
Close up from one of 100 paintings

The project was born out of Nagai confronting his own anxieties surrounding his work. “Art is always a process,” he reflects. “I’ve had trouble, probably with me being a straight man, not accepting failure and living with humiliation and pain. The 100 days is me fucking up all the time and being ok with ‘I’m just not good.’”

Nagai’s paintings are uplifting and spiritual in the way that walking through the woods or smelling rain brings you back to your body. His work is not so much of an escape but a reminder of exactly where you are in this world. And sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

With Spirits will be showing at The Factory until January 5th, 2019.