Studio Visit

Jason Rudolph Peña, 26, is the PHX's kick-back Gustav Klimt. The soft-spoken iconoclast is known for his live paintings of ethereal women with large, dreamy eyes. Like Klimt's women, Peña's are idealized creatures, highly feminine and unobtainable. He's exhibited at monOrchid, Thought Crime, Amsterdam, and House Studios, and has a solo show March 19 at That's a Wrap, 2022 North Seventh Street. Currently, he lives and paints in a cozy central Phoenix bungalow that he shares with his fiancée, fashion designer Faustina Mesa.

Music = heroin: I'm a music junkie. It's my heroin. I get jittery if I'm not constantly hearing new music. I like Sade, Björk, Portishead, and Esthero. Especially Esthero. She's a Canadian jazz vocalist. Her album Breath From Another was my favorite. It put all these images into my head. One day I picked up the paintbrush, and it started flowing out of me.

Bob Ross made me do it: I've done live paintings at Paisley Violin, the Icehouse, Club Freedom, Wet Paint, Paper Heart. I just like doing it. I don't know why. I'm a real quiet and shy guy. But if I get into the zone and do it, it's like I'm in my element. Like that's what I should be doing.

I was inspired by Bob Ross. That's where I got a lot of my painting techniques. I would watch him religiously, learn from his techniques and adapt them to mine. I'm like, "Man, if he can do that in a half-hour, what can I do?"

Why Carl Hayden High sucks: They wouldn't let me take art classes because they said I was too advanced. That's why I hated it there. Also, there were so many gangs and so many problems with fighting on a daily basis. Fortunately, I was able to slip through all that.

They did give me my first illustration job, though. I did the cover for the senior yearbook. It's black, and has a falcon, and he's gonna grab planet Earth, but it came out all wrong and it was a big controversy because he looks like Toucan Sam.

Home Depot and Van Gogh: I use Van Gogh acrylics, the cheapest brand you can buy. Not the best, but if you know how to use it, you can make it work for you. I like greens, blues and purples. Phthalo blue is my favorite.

I paint on hardwood boards from Home Depot. I prefer it to canvas. With canvas, the texture is harder to work with. With these boards, you can get the softer, more oil-painting look to it. It's smoother, and less expensive.

Norman Rockwell's the shit: I was ashamed for a long time to admit I liked Norman Rockwell. But finally I was like, fuck it, man, that guy's the shit. The way he painted women was amazing. He painted them so gracefully. I really study his paintings. Like, wow, how did he do that leather shoe? How did he make it look like real leather? I could look at his work all day.

Chicks with big eyes: I'll paint a guy now and then, but with a woman, there's more of a story behind their eyes. They wear their emotions on their sleeves more. I like big eyes because, like they say, eyes are the windows to the soul. I've studied acting classes, and a lot of acting is in the eyes, not facial expressions. A lot of people think that because I like big eyes that means I like anime, but I don't like anime at all.

The romance of old Hollywood: Classic beauty is what I'm really into. Like with this book Hollywood Cheesecake, I just mark images that I think would make a good painting. It's full of old B-movie actresses. There's a lot of cool stuff in it. My father found it at a swap meet for a couple of bucks and gave it to me. He said, "Maybe you can paint something from it." I was like, "Hell, yeah."

On the bachelor party for his impending wedding: For the bachelor party, we're gonna have a pinup art show. All my friends will do a pinup painting, and maybe have an auction and sell the paintings. My best man said, "Hey, dude, you want me to get you a stripper?" But I'm not really into that. I go, "It's cool if you want to get a chick for my bros. Just keep her away from me."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons