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James Gortner in his studio at Mana Art Center. Photos by Tema Stauffer.

James Gortner is an artist based in New York. Originally from Los Angeles, Gortner received a BA from Hawaii Pacific University in 2001 and an MFA from Columbia University in 2010. His series of paintings, The Dark Side Portraits, portray residents of a derelict cemetery building in Brooklyn. These patchwork paintings are constructed with materials found, in part, in the sitters’ environment, where Gortner worked and lived in order to come closer to his subjects, some of whom are gang members and addicts. A solo exhibition of these portraits was shown in Berlin in 2007.

Q: What drew you to Mana Art Center?

A: It was by accident.  I first learned about Mana after I moved in.

Q: When did you decide to move your studio here?

A: After graduating from Columbia’s MFA program last year, I was looking for something big and affordable, and I immediately liked this space.

Q: How do you feel about Jersey City?

A: I don’t spend much time out of my studio but the walk here from the train is nice.  I was worried that I wouldn’t find an active art community here, but with Mana, that’s happening.

Q: Did you design your studio here?

A: It was part made, part found.  A lot like my work.

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

A: I’m finishing up fourteen new paintings made from the hundreds of older, smaller paintings in my art collection. The new paintings are not only portraits of my girlfriend, fashion photographer Carolina Palmgren, they are giant functioning Tarot cards.  The same fourteen I drew from her deck when we met four years ago.

Q: What do you like about about your studio?

A: The light is perfect and even all day long.

Q: How do you feel about being a part of Mana Art Center?

A: Fortunate.

– Tema Stauffer