Artist Studio | John Poon

By Wolf Schneider; Photos by Jimmy Chin

Painter John Poon at his studio in Jackson, WYYou’re of Irish-Chinese descent, born in Hong Kong and brought up in San Francisco. Sounds exotic. What line of work were your parents in?
My dad was an interior designer. My mom worked for the church. We lived in Hong Kong, then in California in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Daly City, Berkeley. We bounced around. My dad was Chinese, my mom is American.

You taught at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco?
I did, for almost 10 years.

What prompted you to move to Jackson?
Scott Christensen was the catalyst. He’s a mentor and friend. I’d taken one of his workshops. He said, “What are you gonna do? Keep teaching? Paint full time?” He suggested Jackson if I was going to paint full time. And he had a house for sale here with a big studio. He moved across town to an even bigger place.

Which is how you came to work in your log cabin studio that used to belong to Scott.
Yeah. Jackson Hole’s just beautiful. We moved in 2002.

Have you been hoping Scott’s aura, or at least his avid following, will rub off on you?
Initially that was maybe how it was, but I started to go off in a different direction. Scott and I are really good friends, but we have different ways of looking things. I use a little more color. I like man-made elements as well as pure nature—boats, cityscapes. I like thick, thick paint and seeing the tactile quality on the canvas.

Have you changed the studio at all?
The carpet’s the same—it’s green. The track lighting’s the same. I haven’t changed a whole lot, to tell you the truth. The walls are grayish-green, which shows the artwork really well. It’s a 30-by-40-foot space. It’s log. It’s all set up by the north side where the light comes in. The studio’s attached to the house.

What advice has Scott given you?
Well, his philosophy is to limit the number of paintings you put into the market and to make sure what you do put out is good. I put out 9 to 10 paintings a month. This month, I put out 30. All the galleries needed paintings this month.

You’re a landscapist—do you paint entirely plein-air?
I do field studies outside, and sometimes I’ll make a larger painting inside from a small reference.

Do you consider yourself a realist or an impressionist?
I’m a painterly realist.

When you’re out there painting, ever had close encounters with bison, elk, moose, or pronghorn?
None of those, but a couple of grizzly bear! Scott and I were coming off a trail in the Tetons, and we heard a gnawing. There was grizzly there. I tried to make noise to let her know we were there. She was just getting grub off a piece of dead bark. Then a yearling came around the corner. We took off, making a racket.

At 45, what quality have you decided an artist must have, and what quality will only do an artist in?
An artist must have perseverance; what will do them in is lack of determination.

What’s your mantra?
Oh, man. “Keep on keepin’ on.”

On what occasion do you fudge the truth?
Ha! If I’m invited to an event and don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings, I might say I’m busy when really I just want to have a nice quiet evening at home with my wife.

Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with?
John Singer Sargent.

Which artist would you most like an hour of advice from?
Edward Hopper—I’d really like to get inside his head about composition.

What’s the range that your work sells for?
$700 to $15,000.

When you reach the end of this incarnation, what sentence would probably sum it up for you?
Jeez. How about: “He did his best.”

Poon is represented by Legacy Gallery, Jackson, WY; Walls Gallery, Wilmington, NC; and Garden Gallery, Half Moon Bay, CA.

Featured in “My World” February 2007