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Jill Poyourow


My production as an artist is informed by the constantly changing natural world outside my door. Simultaneously aware of the ever present and also constantly changing interior natural world of cognition and biological functioning, I am fascinated with how these worlds are connected and how our environments, popular culture and technology joins and/or isolates us. I seek to confirm our species functioning as one being, while pondering our intersecting personal and collective past, present, and future. Photography's role in all of this becomes a critical focal point.

The foundation of my practice derives from painterly traditions, personal iconography and a blend of vernacular/photo historical influences. The wide reaching, recurring themes in my work have included: ancestor worship, the diagnosis and treatment of disease, dna, genetics and epigenetics, food, technology, human expression, music, decoration and adornment, and the spiritual ramifications of the dualities of contemporary lifestyles. Installation has been an important unifying aspect of the presentation of my work for almost 30 years. My wall works are made up of paintings, works on paper, and sometimes embroideries.

Source materials and references include an archive of family photographs and documents as well as images from old books, popular culture ephemera, life/nature studies and reproductions of art from through the ages. Also, an imagination populated with visions of fractal-like organisms, creatures and primordial life forms.

Please scroll down to read about a couple of my recent bodies of work, and be sure to also visit the archives section of this website. Thanks!

LANDS & PEOPLES SERIES (1998-present)

The relationship between painting & photography fascinates me. In my decades-long Lands and Peoples series, images are culled from a series of old encyclopedias published in the first half of the 20th century. These documentary photographs provide me a basis for exploring how different levels of painterly and photographic realities can evolve and co-exist, while moving me to find significance and meaning in the act of painting.

These volumes are filled with the mesmerizing artistry of long forgotten early documentary photographers (some the children of portrait painters who took up the camera due to the invention of the fixed image). My years as a documentary photographer informed how I look at the world and picture making. Many of the oldest images in these books are the work of ethnologists and anthropologists who were exploring and recording towns and villages yet to be touched by the industrial revolution. Contemplating these images of a world long gone fills me with sorrowful inspiration and nostalgic gloom. These books, for me, epitomize an earlier version and vision of human life on our planet.

IIn my most recent LANDS AND PEOPLES work, The Natural Progression of Things, I aim to bring together specific personal, historical and cosmological events with the biological processes essential to life. I am interested not merely with nostalgic, exterior appearances of the physical world, but also with the subjective, experiential processes of cognition – visceral experiences of being human which link us to one another.

THE RED CARPET SERIES (2006-present)



When I first began the series of paintings they felt like some kind of contemporary polka music in visual form. In these paintings, I am excited about mark making. Not only as visual idiom and unifying/devotional activity, but also as a poetical and metaphorical process of how our experiences leave their marks on us and influence our behaviors. These marks leave impressions upon those who follow us, as those followers’ marks will influence their followers, in a continual process of evolution. In the TOTEM PAINTINGS, I draw one line down the center of the pristine blank surface of the canvas, and then begin to paint in oils with various brushes without any pre-conceived ideas in my head, mixing each color and creating each shape as I proceed. The element of spontaneity and lack of planning is what compels me to continue, as if I am meeting a friend for the first time and am enjoying getting to know them as they reveal themselves over a period of time. These paintings were likely inspired/informed by living my formative early years among the tribal art of the Pacific Northwest Coast (including Alaska) as well as an ongoing affection for the pattern and decoration movement (P&D).

The totem poles of the Pacific Northwest Coast are such amazing works, and they have such a rich history and carry such important meaning to these families - all of this inspires me to make these paintings. Many totem poles involved human figures representing ancestors and spirit helpers. Even today, many native people in the Pacific NW continue to honor deceased relatives and celebrate family histories and events with these objects of beauty. My own artistic practice has incorporated beliefs about ancestor worship, specifically with my family snapshot paintings (you can see some of these in the archives section of this site, click HERE). I designed and taught a class at Art Center College of Design entitled "Portraiture and the Family: Behind the Snapshot." The course examined current forms of worship of our deceased loved ones, and looks at the work of artists who use images of their deceased family members and family snapshots as subject matter, questioning how these practices are a form of ancestor worship.

For the past 30 years my father has frequented remote villages throughout Northwestern Alaska as a social worker for the Native Corporation of Norton Sound (Nome area). At 82 years old and still working full-time, he currently serves as the Urgent Care Services Director, and is constantly aiding in family emergencies, most often involvlng substance abuse crisis. In his work he has spent extended hours with the elders and hunters of the local tribes, and has experienced their culture and their native language first hand, and has shared many stories with me. In this work, I pay homage to a people for whom I have great respect.