Interview with Oakland-based Artist Pryce Jones

by Matt

Pryce Jones is an Oakland-based painter, architectural designer, game developer, and a professor at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. With a unique abstract style of painting, Pryce reveals his interest in portraying black American life. Some of his more recent work also depicts the beauty of Nature and animals. We caught up with Pryce to learn more about his process, inspiration, and his unique journey as an artist.

Can you walk us through your journey as an artist?

I started drawing as a kid, and I have drawn my whole life. When I was a junior in high school, I entered a regional art show for students and submitted a drawing of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his son. My drawing won first place, and on the plaque that accompanied my artwork I had to put a job I wanted to pursue after high school. My plaque said that I wanted to be an architectural delineator (someone who creates representational drawings of buildings). A parent of one of the other students in the show was an architect and he contacted me, and became sort of a mentor. He let me visit his firm and encouraged me to go to architecture school. I ended up going to Syracuse University. I fell in love with architecture, as I’ve always been fascinated with places and space making.

My journey as a painter has been circuitous – growing up in the inner city of Delaware, I got drawn to wanting to understand how buildings are made. To me, art was an inroad to understanding the world. Even though I pursued architecture as a career, I always kept doing painting on the side. For a few years, I was working as an architect before I got into the video game industry. I was a videogame artist and environment artist for 12 years. Then, in 2009, I started teaching at the Academy of Art in San Francisco for the School of Game Development. Even though I could paint, I was self-taught and didn’t know about specific techniques and working with the medium. By teaching game development in art school, I was able to pick up some tips from other artists, painters, and teachers.

How did you make the link between architecture and the video game industry?

Today’s games have realistic worlds, environments, and buildings. Learning how those are made in real life can help you make them more accurate in a video game. I never really found my voice as an architect- It was hard to make a place for yourself as a black person in this industry in the 90s. Ultimately, I felt more welcome in the entertainment industry, which was younger, more welcoming- it was a better fit for me. I was able to take my architecture knowledge and use it to make 3D animation and models for video games.

What kind of material do you use for your paintings?

I like painting with oil the most. I like the way that it pops off the canvas, and the way you can layer it up. I also do some watercolors and work with wood panels from time to time, but most of my work is with oil on canvas. Most of my paintings are quite big, around 15’’ by 40’’. I think it’s powerful to work with bigger dimensions. Some of my other paintings are smaller, about 8’’ by 11’’ on a canvas sheet, which are smaller oil ‘practice sketches’. For example, that is the case with my last portrait of Sade.

What is your inspiration?

I always liked drawings and depictions of black people, and black American life. My abstract pieces are about the complexity of being black in America. Some artists have inspired me in that direction, like the abstract pop art of Françoise Nielly. It’s a graphic form of representation. I also like to use the abstraction to capture a feeling. I think of my work sometimes as the likes of Roy DeCarava, who photographed the Harlem Renaissance. Through the lighting and composition, he would always capture a mood, a powerful feeling, more than he would represent it.

Do you follow a specific process for painting?

A lot of my paintings are inspired by photographs. If I am doing something abstract, I do a sketch to figure out what I want the colors to be. Sometimes, I’ll do it digitally first using photoshop or on my iPad, which helps me map out where I want my colors to be before recreating it on a large on canvas. I use the same process if I am recreating from an original image or photograph. I usually work on multiple paintings at once. It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to complete a painting.

You have recently started depicting animals in your paintings – from deers, elephants, and now horses. What inspired you to start painting animals?

I’ve always been drawn to Nature, and as I get older, I think a lot more about Nature in terms of climate change. There is a complex feeling of being drawn to depicting Nature in some way. I like to work with totemic elements, and the deer in one of my paintings is about that in a lot of ways. That picture in particular was about climate change- you can depict the sea level rise, where the deer is a spirit animal, and its antlers are like a crown. Horses are very spiritual animals too. They are very sensitive – there is something about their presence. I’ve been drawn to depicting that in my art as well. I draw animals a lot, even though I haven’t depicted them a lot in my paintings, but this is starting to change.

The image of Sade on a horse is beautiful. There is something about it that is very majestic. In fact, I think it doesn’t get more majestic than that.

Tell me about the places you have exhibited your work:

I have exhibited some of my paintings at Oakland Artist Collective a couple of years ago. I was a featured artist, and my paintings were displayed on the main gallery wall. That was the first exhibition I ever did with several pieces, and it gave me a lot of confidence as an artist, as I hadn’t really shown or shared my paintings up until that point.

Currently, I am showing my art in ” The Art of the African Diaspora” exhibition in Richmond, CA. and one of my pieces won an award for Best in Show. From the exhibition, I was invited to be in another one called “The Newcomers” in downtown Oakland, in which I have two other paintings on display.

Do you commission paintings? How can people find and buy your art?

People know about my art through Instagram (@prycejonesart), Facebook, and the various exhibitions where my work is displayed. My aim is also to have a gallery and website store soon. For now, people usually reach out to me on Instagram and ask for a print. I also have received some requests to do commissions, one of which I am currently working on.

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