Living out His Dream, One Piece at a Time: Meet Mixed Media artist Art Jonathan Kuracina

By Al Gord

Jonathan Kuracina was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada but lived primarily in Kingston Ontario until he moved to Upstate New York for school. He played soccer for his university while studying to get both his undergraduate degree, and his Master’s degree in Education. He lived and worked in New York for about five years post university until he moved to his current home in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Jonathan has an amazing career as a grade four teacher at West Point Grey Academy, where he gets to interact with some awesome children every day. He is currently in the process of moving to a new studio space in the heart of the art district in Vancouver, where he will have more space as well as the ability to join a community of other artists in the city who are doing big things.

From what I understand, you only began creating works of art just last year. What was the motivation for you to start creating?

It is funny because I have been creating all my life, whether it be crafting, drawing, woodworking, or collaging, I have always had a creative spark since I was a kid. My mum was always, and still is a hugely creative person and would create things with my siblings and me. There were always things around the house for the creative soul. I started painting about three years ago when I had moved into my new apartment. The motivation was to decorate my apartment, but not with the typical Home Sense/store bought decor. I could not afford the type of art I liked so I decided to just learn how to paint in order to decorate my home.

This grew into a passion and a hobby. I started to post my creations to Instagram and my friends started asking me to make them paintings for their places. At the beginning of 2021, I had been painting so much that I decided to make a dedicated space in my apartment to create. That is when things changed for me and I started to sell more through Instagram to more friends and people, and now I am in a gallery here in Vancouver that represents me and sells my pieces. It has been a quick journey to the place I am now but the cool thing is I still have years of practice before I am at a place where I want to be. What I mean by that is I do not feel any pressure or expectation to be a top artist, because good artists are made from years of experience, which I have plenty of ahead of me.

Your home serves as both a gallery of your work and a studio. Do you find working in the same place that you live provides you a certain inspiration or energy?

This is mainly because I could not afford to have a separate space for my studio. It actually turned into a blessing because I found myself creating every day because of the easy access to my studio. I also use my apartment to test out how pieces look and so I can live with them and enjoy their energy before I sell them or take them to the gallery. I am currently moving my studio to a rented studio space as I have outgrown the small sunroom in my apartment.

The business side of my art has grown to the point where a studio space has now become independently sustainable with the revenue generated from sales. I think I will miss having a space several steps away from where I live but the new space is about five times the size of my current studio and located in a warehouse full of other really successful artists who I have been a fan of for years. It’s surreal to see the names of my new neighbours knowing I have been admiring their work in galleries and on Instagram for years.

Your background is in education. You are a teacher specializing in English, math and science. Do you feel that the skills needed in the areas of math and science, notably analysis; problem solving, critical thinking and visual-spatial reasoning play a role in your art?

Absolutely not! I feel like the answer for this question should have been yes but honestly the way I approach my art is holistically different from how I approach my teaching career. I have been teaching for ten years and have my Master’s degree in education. Teaching and connecting with students is my first passion, and I approach the relationship building piece with my students very naturally and organically. The planning, analyzing, and engaging with curriculum is a very measured process for me.

My creation process is solely based on feeling and intuition. I rarely plan the pieces I create, and I often figure out composition, spatial reasoning, and colour combinations in the moment based on how I feel, and how the piece feels. Creating is a completely free process for me with no rules. It is funny because I know a piece is done when the feeling of me hating it turns to loving it, and there is rarely an in-between.

There is so much feeling and emotion in every piece I do and I lean into that process fully because it always produces the best results. If I think too much about where to put colours, or how I need it to look, the pieces do not turn out well. Learning how to trust my process and lean into spontaneity is the key to my success.

I get that as creating really is a process of passion and intuition. Initially you experimented with works that are more abstract. What was it about this style of art that first appealed to you?

For me it was about creative expression in its most raw form. I was really just experimenting with colour, composition, and feeling out the pieces at first. It was also just very freeing and a lot of fun to experiment. I started to work in different textures and expressions of the paint with different tools which gave me so much energy and life that I knew it was a genre of art I loved, and am still finding my voice in. I also feel that creating abstract art reveals your truth as an artist. Abstract art looks different for each artist who does it, and the more pieces you make the more personality the genre takes through your lens as an artist. It is like finding out your Patronus animal only after you have summoned the charm (for the Harry Potter fans out there)

Who does not love a little Harry Potter? Talking about magic, your work now is quite different. How would you describe your transformation as an artist and how did your current style develop?

It feels like my journey through creation has really been on autopilot since I started. I really try to be as honest as I can and lean into every feeling and inspiration. I find the more I create, the more ideas I have about what I want to make next. It is not something I can thoroughly explain if I am being honest as it really is just a feeling. I see an image or a colour scheme in my day-to-day life and get a burst or spark of energy and I just run with the idea. The moment you second-guess yourself as an artist is the moment you take a step back in your creation process.

I think there is a time and place to be critical of your own work, but I also keep the mindset that I am making these pieces because I like them. Even the pieces I know I will eventually sell are pieces I would have up in my own home first-and-foremost. That mindset has proven fruitful for me so I trust it, but it is really just blind faith in your creation process for as long as you grow.

A number of your pieces include images of famous women such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and even the Mona Lisa. You seem drawn to iconic female figures. Is that accurate and if so, what is the appeal to making them a focus in your work?

Honestly, I never thought too much about why these iconic women were always ending up the focal point of my work, but as I have been reflecting on it I think there is so much power in the female presence that is often overshadowed by men. Powerful, brave women are present in a lot of areas of my life and I have always been inspired by how resilient women have had to be in order to be successful, which is also a travesty to be honest. Male privilege is something I am painfully aware of, and I am also aware of how much of it I inherently have. I do not see the point in highlighting powerful iconic men, as they already have the limelight, often for doing far less than their female counterparts. Women who fight uphill battles, fight the patriarch, and live lives much harder than men do are simply inspiring to me, and I believe they deserve the spotlight much more than they get.

Those are some incredibly powerful sentiments. I have heard you share that your paintings are charged by how you feel. Can you explain this to us and tell us about a couple of pieces that are dichotomous in the feelings you experienced while creating them.

I think that is what unknowingly drew me to painting and creating, the fact that you get to just expel feeling into a visual form. It has become almost necessary for me to paint and create because it has become a positive outlet for my mental health. I also feel that each painting I create embodies a piece of my soul. For me it has become a way to build connections throughout the world. Pieces of who I am, what I have to say, and what I feel are hanging in people’s homes across the country and also in other countries at this point. Painting and expression of feeling through any medium is just a way to be heard, seen, and most importantly, felt. Every piece I ever create tells a story. I often let the painting dictate what that story is because it is truly organic and unfiltered. I create very spontaneously, with a huge focus on what feelings come up during creation, and being true to where those feelings lead me.

While new to the scene, you are already connected to a gallery in your hometown. Tell us more about how that came to be.

Another organic experience has brought me to Empty Wall Vancouver, and more importantly, their owners Candy and Peng. I was spending a lot of time in their gallery enjoying the art, and drawing inspiration for my own process. I started to chat with Candy, and at the time I had no idea she was the owner. We instantly connected about art, music, style and just a creative passion. I ended up buying a sculpture that day and Candy then gifted me a smaller sculpture to my surprise. We became friends and eventually I asked Candy if she thinks my work was good enough for her gallery. She asked me to bring some pieces in for her and her team to take a look at and they would let me know. I brought in all the pieces I had at the time hoping she would at least like one, and she ended up taking all of them all! Since then the friendship has been organic, and so has the business end of things. Candy and Peng have opened up a lot of doors for me that I would not have had access to otherwise. They make it really personal and invest in their artists’ success which feels really genuine. We have some big plans coming in the next year or two as well, which is very exciting!

The organic manner in which you connected with the gallery owners is incredible. In learning more about you, I discovered that your mother got a tattoo of one of your early works. Tell us about that event.

That was super cool! I had done a sketch of an ice cream character that I was playing around with on the sidewalk outside my parent’s backdoor on the day they were moving to their new house. I took some photos on my mum’s phone, as I did not have mine on me at the time. A few months later, I was visiting my parents and my mum came home with the sketch as a tattoo, which was so special to see. My parents have always supported me in everything I have ever done and this was her way of showing me how proud she is of my new artistic journey, and that she truly loves my work! I would not be this successful in life if it was not for my mum and dad, and not just in art but in every aspect of what makes me successful. I owe a lot to them that is for sure!

That really is a special moment! It has been a pleasure learning more about you. My final thought is that you are really quite new to the scene. For other artists just starting out is there any advice or message that you can share with them?

Yes for sure. Create without expectation. If you want to become an artist to make money, I cannot imagine that it will give you a sense of joy in the long run. It is hard to try something new but I think having an attitude of not worrying about what people think, and making the art for yourself is the best way to start. I did not start painting because I wanted people to think I am great, or for people to spend money on my pieces, I started painting because it felt good and was exciting. When you make something cool, it is a feeling that I have not really felt in other areas of my life. It is like success mixed with the excitement of seeing something from your brain now in front of you and it looks even cooler than you could have imagined!

While Jonathan is new to the art scene, he is already making his mark. To keep up to date with his journey, readers can find Jonathan’s work on his Instagram page and through his website.

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