“Actually, I don’t really feel like listening to Queen,” Jay Miriam says as she puts a record back into its sleeve. It is a gray, rainy Sunday afternoon and she’s feeling more of a Nina Simone vibe. Shortly, Nina purrs a cover of Hall & Oates’s “Rich Girl” from the wooden phonograph and the sound fills Jay’s kitchen. Her cats, two elders and three two-month-old kittens, sleep in the background. We sit on stools by the counter and Jay cuts into Polish pastries procured from a local bakery, one a poppyseed danish and the other a rose jelly donut. They’re sugary and fluffy and “they’re meant to be eaten with wine, so I hope you’re ready,” she smiles, pouring us each a glass of red.
Jay is a painter. She has shown work all over the world, as far away as Australia and as close as the Half Gallery in New York. Her work, dreamlike yet rooted in memory, explores intricacies and ideologies of femininity with subtle humor and thick coats of color. She has been featured in The Paris Review, Forbes (which called her a “painting wunderkind”), Time Out New York, and many others. I am in her home, a railroad apartment whose center space she converted into a painting studio. In the corner of her studio, there’s a bright white light on a stand that Jay keeps lit when she’s working. It duplicates the light a gallery may put on a work when it’s hung and it shows the colors in their actual tones and vibrancy, where the darker overhead light already in the apartment may not.
In her soft, honey-like voice, she talks about some of her works in progress: a large, emerald oil painting where witches dance around what will eventually be a hat, which the devil is said to have worn to hide his horns; a woman balancing between lightness and dark, life and death; a nude whose face Jay has scraped away countless times in hopes of getting the features and expression just right. It seems to be on its way, but she’s not sure.
Jay will soon begin a new work by stretching her own canvas. She wears painting clothes, a ripped tank top and black paint-splattered sweatpants with a giant hole in the knee over cutoff denim shorts. She worries she’ll look awkward in the pictures I’m taking, but there’s something about her I think looks just fabulous, simultaneously messy yet elegant, as a young, professional painter would.
Jay starts by laying the gray raw linen on the floor, cutting it to match the shape of a wooden frame. A long time ago she became interested in the way Renaissance painters made canvases of their own and resolved to do so ever since. She bends the linen over the wooden frame, solidifying it in place with a giant stapler. The kittens play inside the frame, and every so often she gently picks one up and moves it so she can continue working.