Oklahoma Contemporary
Calvin Pressley, Studio-in-Place artist
A figure sits in the middle of a room, wearing a black beanie, with dreadlocks completely obscuring their face

New Light

June 11, 2020

#StudioInPlace: Guided by Voices

Meet the contemporary artists inspiring Calvin Pressley
By Calvin Pressley, Studio-in-Place artist
Two people chat over Instagram Live
Calvin Pressley's Connected Conversations project is designed to foster meaningful connections during COVID-19, resulting in a series of painted portraits featuring Pressley's interview subjects.

Many voices have talked to me throughout my life as a painter. Peers, teachers and other artists have shared a lot of advice and given me a good amount of space to make my own decisions. Yet each time I go to the canvas, I find myself trying to unpack everything that's been said to me. Like I pulled in a bucket of all these thoughts and now I get to take them out — or throw the bucket out altogether. That’s my choice.

Today I’m sharing a few artists I’ve followed over the years. The first is Michael Kondel, who I met at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts while pursuing my master’s degree. As part of my Connected Conversations series for Studio-in-Place, I had an Instagram Live conversation with Mike last week. I sketched and took notes as we discussed living and making art in the middle of a pandemic, the recent Black Lives Matter protests and more.

Mike has always been such an inspiring friend. Being able to talk live through social media followed by a personal phone call was beautiful. We reached levels in our friendship that I don't think we had reached before. It was nice to see his face and learn about the things he’s been up to in Pennsylvania and New Haven, Conn.

Whether in grad school, through conversations with friends and peers or on Instagram, I’m always looking for inspiration in the work of other painters. Here are a few more artists I’m paying attention to right now:

A Black person works on a mural featuring the phrase Black Lives Matter
Joshua Jaiye Farrell creates an interactive, Black Lives Matter mural as part of the Plaza District's Plaza Walls mural project. A work by Farrell was also featured in Oklahoma Contemporary's 2019 Summer Mural Series. (Source: Plaza District, Twitter)

Chris Ofili | #ChrisOfili – I’ve been following Chris for years now. I discovered his work my first year of grad school. His use of color and sometimes ambiguous yet confrontational subjects appeal to me.

Colleen Asper | @colleenasper – I taught with Colleen while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art (PAFA). She taught me to think about where my work came from and where it could go.

Cristina Muniz | @driedpaintbrush – We met at San Antonio College, where I first started making work in an institutional format. We’ve stayed in touch since. I’m drawn to her colorful, expressive and emotional works.

Didier William | #DidierWilliam – Didier was a mentor of mine at PAFA and was the only black professor there when I was a master's student. The narratives in his work take some time to unpack — I recommend you take spend some time with his paintings.

Portrait of a person with dark hair and features
"The painted portraits of Jennifer Packer reflect an intimacy with the sitter — something I try to achieve in my work as well." - Calvin Pressley, Studio-in-Place artist

Jennifer Packer | #JenniferPacker – I had the opportunity to have Jennifer critique my work while at PAFA. Her portrait paintings reflect an intimacy with the sitter — something I try to achieve in my work as well.

Jonathan Lyndon Chase | @jonathanlyndonchase – This Philadelphia-based artist is a phenomenal painter with intense color knowledge. I’m struck by his use of space and intimate renderings of subjects in color.

Joshua Jaiye Farrell | @dawnjaiye – Jaiye is one of the first artists I met when I moved to Oklahoma City. One of the younger artists listed here, Jaiye has a level of tenacity that I think is super important for all artists, especially emerging ones.

Mark Blavat | #MarkBlavat – Mark was one of my professors at PAFA. He is also a poet and his teaching reflected that — sometimes it took a few days for me to process his advice and criticism. But it always stuck.

William Villalongo | @wvillalongo – I haven’t met William personally, but I encountered his work in New York at one point. Two things strike me about his work: his use of inventive materials and how the subjects in his work are at once revealed yet obscured by patterns.


Calvin Pressley is a Studio School instructor who primarily focuses on subjective portraiture in painting and drawing. With a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia, Calvin maintains a studio in the Oklahoma City area and has exhibited nationally. Prior to graduate school, Calvin gained experience in oil painting and drawings of various mediums while studying art at the University of Texas in San Antonio and San Antonio College. As an arts educator, Calvin has assisted with classes at PAFA during the school year and in summer programming, as well as taught at the University of North Texas in Denton.

Editor's Note: This blogpost was written by Calvin Pressley and edited/formatted by Oklahoma Contemporary staff.

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Studio-in-Place Studio School Calvin Pressley COVID-19 portraiture Connected Conversations

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