Keven Furiya is an American-born Japanese artist who works in oil paintings, watercolors, and sketches, all of which tend to explore and celebrate the beauty of the ordinary, and the tapestry of textures and colors that surround even the most mundane scenes. He began his creative training at Seattle Central Community College and has been an active part of the Seattle art scene for 25 years. In our interview, we discuss the Japanese-American experience, the ideal day in an artist’s life, and being ready for the next big opportunity.
What are the aspects of an urban scene that speak to you, what do you see that possibly others don’t see? And what compels you to document it?
Mostly the textures within the everyday scenes that surround us, which are easy to overlook in the hustle and bustle of life, and how they look different during the various times of day or season. I always notice the patterns of cracks in the sidewalk, the masonry of an Art Deco-era building, or rust patterns on a corrugated steel building. It’s also fascinating to see how nature slowly reclaims man-made entities through rust or overgrowth of foliage. It’s that tension that I find compelling. I’m visually oriented so if I find something fascinating, I’m motivated by how it would look as a painting stripping out the extraneous details leaving that which I find interesting and letting the viewer fill in the rest.
It took me a few times to realize your first name is spelled Keven, not Kevin!
My first name always gets mistaken more than my last name. English was a second language for my parents so they spelled it how they thought it was pronounced.
Do you ever work from photographs or always plein air?
I do work from photos that I’ve taken as well as plein air. Another method is I’ll use a plein air watercolor as reference which is less difficult since the details have been streamlined/edited during the plein air session.
It appears you work on canvas, linen, and even panel. How do you choose the ideal substrate for any particular painting?
I’ll work with what I have available. For larger pieces, it’ll always be canvas or linen.
You’ve mentioned being inspired by Kamekichi Tokita (1897-1948) and Kenjiro Nomura (1896-1956), can you tell me more about how their work has affected yours?
They lived and worked (sign painting shop) in the vicinity where I live (Tashiro Kaplan). Their subject matter included Japantown, Pioneer Square, First Hill, and Yesler Terrace, among others. It’s fascinating to see their documentation of these areas at that snapshot in time. Also, I only learned of them a little over 10 years ago. Having grown up in the midwest, my exposure to art by people of Japanese origin was limited to sumi ink, pottery, watercolor with calligraphy. As for Western-style oil paintings, I was only familiar with European and American painters, mostly of Anglo descent. It was refreshing to see these works at the SAAM done by issei and nisei (first and second-generation Japanese immigrants) in a style I’ve always associated with European and American artists. And it’s a snapshot of the city I now call home.
Tell me about a perfect day as an artist: what are the phases, who is involved, and what do you accomplish?
Wake up, feed the cats, have breakfast (usually something simple like oatmeal or boiled eggs). Then stretch (a necessity since I’m getting older with lower back issues and arthritic hips).
Then I’ll go to the gym to swim or work in the garden (P-patch in Delridge). After having a light lunch, I’ll work on a couple of paintings. I always have two to four going at once to keep things fresh. I’ll work for about 3 hours max. Three to five days a week. I believe in consistency or quality time instead of quantity of time spent.
That’s a wonderful work-life balance. I love letting ideas mature in the subconscious (while doing other things) and then when the time is right, executing the plan. So, after a session like you described, when do you call it a day and how do you wind down?
Usually, late afternoon. Depending on how much I have to do the next day, I’ll visit friends or stay in to get ready for the next day. As I get older, it’s more of the latter.
What is your most significant career goal?
My main goal is to be consistent in output and try to improve paint handling and quality. I’ll never run out of subject matter and themes so if I concentrate on the above, I’ll be ready for any opportunity that comes my way as long as I’m alert and aware. I guess my goal is to be ready to act on opportunities that I encounter not only with the body of work but the business side (documentation/project scope, work that’s photographed and ready for submission, etc.).
I’m a big fan of Diana Adams and Vermillion, how did your current show come to be?
I used to help run a life drawing session in a collective art space above the Queer Bar years ago and still associate with many of those artists. Through that group, I remember when Diana opened the Vermillion. I’ve always wanted to show there but didn’t quite have the consistent, cohesive body of work to approach her for a show. It wasn’t until the pandemic that I considered approaching her since the pandemic time gave me an opportunity to come up with a professional-looking package to propose for a show. I felt the proposal had to be airtight based on the quality of artists she had shown.
Well, it looks like you nailed it!
And what’s on the horizon?
My immediate goal is to replenish my inventory. I’m in the fortunate situation where I’ve sold over half the paintings in the Vermillion show. I have an ongoing series of interior scenes (industrial and scenes of various studio spaces). There are many scenes I want to paint similar to the ones in the show that follow the same theme of textures that surround us in the urban setting.
Keven Furiya's show Urban Textures hangs at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar through Nov 26.