J. M. Culver
BFA in Drawing and Painting
Professional Artist
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

J. M. Culver is a contemporary figurative artist who creates psychological narratives with universal themes. She explores figuration and abstraction through a combination of painting and drawing. Prominent themes in her work are the transitory nature of memory, social dynamics, and personal allegories that give an intimate and tangible glimpse into the human psyche. 

Culver attended Syracuse University in New York for graduate studies and holds a BFA in painting from MCAD. She is a recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the MN State Arts Board, is a featured artist on the series MN Original, and has been featured in numerous publications. Culver is a former gallery director and curator. She actively exhibits her work, which is held in private collections internationally. Culver works full-time in her Minneapolis studio.

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What is your favorite thing about your work?

I enjoy being able to work full-time as a professional artist. It's great that I can balance my time painting and exhibiting my personal artwork, while also creating commissions for my collectors. 

What was your experience with MCAD's facilities? Did you have a personal studio? How was that? 

I loved working in my MCAD studio daily. I had access to it 24/7 including holiday breaks and summers. I spent a lot of time in the 3D and Printmaking shops. The Learning Center helped me revise and improve my technical and creative writing skills. I loved working in the Computer Labs during late nights. The MCAD Counseling Service was very helpful for me when I needed to talk about personal or school-related things. It’s also very convenient to have access to art supplies for purchase at The Art Cellar right on campus.

How do you find inspiration when you are feeling stuck?

If I’m feeling stuck, I just have to push myself to get up and walk over to the canvas and start working. Inspiration comes through the process of working. 

Current obsession?

Contemporary Italian pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi.

Why did you choose drawing and painting? 

I already knew that I wanted to major in painting before I started school. I started painting in oils when I was thirteen years old so I had a little bit of a head start. I wanted to focus primarily on painting and drawing, but I also enjoyed making sculpture. A lot of my early paintings incorporated sculptural elements. 

What were your major classes like?

My major studio classes the first couple of years were focused on learning technical skills and traditional techniques. My last two years were focused on experimentation with different materials, executing concepts, and developing my personal voice. Professional Practice helped me improve my artist statements, grant proposals, resume, and marketing skills.

Favorite place on campus? Off campus?

My studio was always my favorite place on campus. I also enjoyed spending time in the library. There are so many great art books and private areas to study and work in your sketchbook. My favorite place off campus was the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It’s amazing to have a large art museum with famous paintings next door to where you go to school and live. Spyhouse Coffee and the Bad Waitress were also favorite hangout spots after classes or on the weekends. They are all within walking distance.

Did MCAD prepare you for life after graduation?

MCAD prepared me with the aesthetic, technical, and conceptual skills needed to develop my artwork on a professional level. I also learned critical thinking and writing skills, the value of critique, and how to publicly discuss and present my artwork. MCAD instilled the idea that success in art requires hard work and persistence, which has kept me motivated to keep pushing forward in my career.

The MCAD Art Sale, both as a student and an alum, also gave me the opportunity to exhibit my artwork, learn how to talk to collectors, how to price and sell my work, and make important networking connections for years to come.

Best thing you ever got from the free shelf?

The best things I ever found on the free shelf were tubes of oil paint, blank canvas, paper, and other art materials that I used for my projects. There were also some nice finds with clothing and dorm items. 

Where did you intern and can you briefly describe the experience?

I interned as an executive assistant at the Soap Factory art gallery in Minneapolis. It was a great experience where I learned how to run a gallery, install artwork, organize exhibitions, develop marketing strategies, and work directly with artists.

Did you have a work-study job?

Yes, I was a development assistant at MCAD. I worked in that position my full four years of college, including summers. It was a life-changing experience where I learned about fundraising, donor relationships, stewardship, and marketing. I gained interpersonal skills and a level of professionalism that impacts my art career and relationships with my own collectors today. 

What did you get out of these work experiences?

After graduation, I became a gallery director and the board chair at the SSCA Gallery, a community nonprofit gallery and organization, for two years. My internship and work-study position gave me the experience to successfully operate the gallery, facilitate board meetings, manage artist studios, curate exhibitions, and hold fundraisers for our community.

Has your work evolved since leaving MCAD? How so?

My early student work began with large abstract sculptural paintings referencing the interior of the body. This work developed into metaphorical visceral landscapes. This led to the creation of large-scale drawings/paintings of figurative narratives that were based on my personal stories and experiences. I pushed myself to explore themes that I had thought about for a long time but was afraid to create. My professors helped encourage me to take risks and just go for it. I feel like I really started to develop my voice within my work my senior year.

Since graduating from MCAD, I have found a way to combine my abstract and figurative work, as well as my painting and drawing techniques. My current work addresses issues of the transitory nature of memory, the ownership of stories and secrets, and the inconsistency of perspective with mental illness and personal identity. I create paintings that have personal significance and create social consciousness to connect and emotionally resonate with the viewer. This has always been an important aspect of my paintings, from my student to current work.

I also create commissions in a wide array of themes and approaches for my clients and collectors.

What advice do you have for art and design students?

Say yes to every opportunity even if you feel nervous. Just take the leap and go for it.

Name your one biggest takeaway from MCAD?

An MCAD professor once told me, “There are twenty-four hours in a day. Make it work!”