Jonathan McAfee is one of Helikon Gallery’s “muses” of 2016, and one of only two Denver artists featured in this year’s Muses of Mount Helikon. I came across Jonathan’s work this past year and was immediately drawn to the vibrant colors and bold brushstrokes of his paintings. Each one of his portraits seem to jump from the canvas, at the same time melding into their surroundings in interesting and unique ways. Jonathan incorporates elements of design in each composition that recall Pop Art stylings while maintaining a strong sense of contemporary aesthetics. Below, Jonathan talks to us about his studio practice and gives some helpful advice for artists at any stage.

"Firecracker," 36x36. Acrylic, graphite and spray paint on canvas.
“Firecracker,” 36×36. Acrylic, graphite and spray paint on canvas.

1. Did you aspire to be an artist, or did you fall in love with making art?

It has always been my goal to be a professional artist. It’s not only the thing I do best but it is the area of my life that I am most passionate. I fell in love with making art when I was in high school.

2. Do you have a “day job” outside of your art?

I do not. Painting is my full-time job.

3. What does your perfect day look like?

My perfect day is when I have several hours of uninterrupted time to spend in my studio working on a painting. Afterwards I would enjoy some alcoholic beverages while staring at my work critiquing it and deciding whether or not it’s finished.

"O," 30x40. Acrylic on canvas.
“O,” 30×40. Acrylic on canvas.

4. What would you tell your younger self when you were first embarking on your artistic career?

Paint what you love and what inspires and intrigues you rather than making art with the hopes that it will sell. Making art solely to sell it cheapens the end result and won’t allow you to get better and remain unique.

5. What do you look for in the art of others? What would you hope people look for in your work?

I always try to find out how a piece of art is created– that’s what ultimately grabs my attention. I hope others appreciate my use of color and my painterly application.

6. How long do you usually take to complete a piece? Do you work on multiple pieces simultaneously?

I try to get at least ¾ of a painting done in one session, regardless of how long that may take. I don’t usually work on multiple pieces simultaneously but will usually have several pieces in progress at any given time.

 "Orchid," 36x36. Acrylic on canvas.
“Orchid,” 36×36. Acrylic on canvas.

7. What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

My laptop, Bluetooth speaker and beer.

8. Do you listen to music/audio while you work or do you prefer to work in silence? Any bands or albums you’ve been enthralled by lately?

Yes. I always have music playing in my studio. I’ve been listening to a ton of Kevin Morby recently, on repeat along with Young Thug, Fuck Buttons, Kanye West and Radiohead.

9. Where do you currently live and how did you come to reside there?

I currently reside in Denver via Indianapolis. My wife and I wanted a change of scenery in 2015 and decided to move here. I also wanted a larger, more progressive city to create and show my work in.

"Lost," 14x18. Acrylic and Sharpie on canvas, framed.
“Lost,” 14×18. Acrylic and Sharpie on canvas, framed.

10. If you could travel to any place on earth tomorrow, where would you go?

I would go to Europe, specifically Paris. It is magical and is my favorite place that I’ve ever been.

11. What are you currently working on and what projects do you have coming up?

I am working on several smaller pieces right now, still incorporating the figure and the portrait. Besides this show at Helikon, I am participating in a group show at Artwork Network in Denver in December and January. The jury is still out for 2017.

"Salt," 16x20. Acrylic and watercolor paper on canvas, framed.
“Salt,” 16×20. Acrylic and watercolor paper on canvas, framed.

Thank you to Jonathan for participating in our interview! See his work in Muses of Mount Helikon IV, on view now through December 10, 2016.
For more information about Jonathan McAfee, visit For more information about Helikon Gallery and Studios, visit


Leave a Reply