In Conversation with Jay Payton

By November 14, 2022

View our Presentation of Jay Payton at NADA 2022 here.

Jay Payton in his studio October 2022. Photograph by Riley Spencer.

In The Gold Bug,  a short story by Edgar Allen Poe published in 1843, the protagonist is set on a journey believing that his longtime friend, the recluse William Legrand, has been driven insane by being bitten by a golden beetle with a skull on its back. Unenjoyable and longwinded but rewarding, towards the end, it’s revealed that there is a logic to Legrand’s unorthodoxy. Enter the studio of Atlanta-raised, New York-based painter Jay Payton. 

Memories & Inspiration: The Kerry and C. Betty Davis Collection of African American Art at the Hunter Museum through January 8th

In Jay’s studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn there are paintings on paper and unstretched canvases nailed and pinned on each wall. There are canvases on the floor as well, with collages and assemblages made out of cardboard, aluminum foil  and other materials in corners, underneath paintings and in occasional stacks. Whereas some works are framed with shiny sleek chrome plated aluminum,  others, such as Totemism Examined in The 21st Century are framed compositionally: within the painting itself: large bold lines of flat uninterrupted color corralling  less definitive relatives. The work has titles that read like sci-fi scripts or headlines from Wired: Neurologic Defibrillation, HARD DISC FAILURE, Biohazardous Medical Device and so on, and when he is not studio, he is watching movies back to back or recruiting biostaticians and researchers for his day job in Biometrics.  It’s complicated these connections but so are his paintings. Although there is never really a picture and palettes change from surface to surface, motifs and familiar lines appear throughout the work. Often there are tendrils along with the occasional spiraling force and some paintings have grids made out of paint or layered thickly atop with glue. 

Jay Payton, Neurologic Defibrillation, 2022; oil paint and oil stick on vinyl, 92 by 72 inches. Photograph by Riley Spencer.

When we try to talk about intention Jay admits that he never makes sketches or really works outside of the studio and when we talk about plans he admits that most of the decisions are made in real time. When we speak about content, we talk about language, time, art history and most importantly material. Although they may incorporate other materials and are on non-traditional surfaces like vinyl or cardboard, the paintings of Jay Payton are about paint: oil paint, spray paint and the occasional baby oil he uses to thin the former, and it shows. One nine foot wide painting titled Pseudomonas Aeruginosa is all gesture, oil stick, splatter, stain and form.

In his painting 209135 +19554 = 5221512212091514 we talk about ciphers and cryptography and Jay’s own relationship to information and data. As a person who uses research in order to find researchers, across his work is a unique presentation of information in its rawest form without context or the expectation of utility: lines interrupt lines, graphic systems alluding to circuits go haywire and anything seemingly too systematic is disrupted by references to the biological. 

In The Gold Bug, which is credited for popularizing the use of cryptography in detective fiction, there gets to a point where Legrand, the alleged lunatic describes in detail how he was able to ascertain the location of millions of dollars worth of buried treasure. I don’t understand the explanation and the character’s long winded breakdown of ciphers and numbers seems besides the point, like the abstract paintings of Jay Payton all that matters is that they found treasure which as a viewer is half the battle anyway. 

Burnaway is excited to announce our solo presentation of new paintings by Jay Payton at NADA, Miami 2022.
To inquire about Payton’s work please email [email protected] for more information. Additional information on the fair can be found at

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