Jennifer Jean Okumura is a lot like her paintings: inviting, precise and composed of a soft power. We speak one sunny morning in her Harrison Avenue studio, where she has been creating art for the past 10 years. Across the room from a few of her dreamy works, we launch into conversation about the artist’s earliest influences. Though a visiting artist during her junior year of high school offered a decisive push to pursue art, from a young age she was compelled to create. When her mother decided the backs of math tests were not adequate surfaces for her daughter’s doodles, she hung large sheets of paper on the wall for Okumura to mark with drawings. There must be tens of them, rolled up, still in her childhood home outside Philadelphia.
Okumura has always been an observer and an explorer, unafraid of (and perhaps drawn to) the unknown. As a teen she spent many afternoons venturing throughout Philadelphia. She would admire murals, visit the Rodin and draw passersby, whose reactions ranged from giving her the finger to lighting up with excitement about her portraits of them. As she told me about these trips, she recounted how often she would find herself caught up in conversations with strangers. With a shrug and a chuckle, she said, “They just talk to me… I get chatterboxes all around.” This is no real surprise, as Okumura’s approach to art and life is both compassionate and undaunted.
Though still strongly connected to the city of her upbringing, Okumura’s foothold in the New England fine and contemporary art scene is strong. A graduate of Syracuse University with an MFA from Boston University, she currently sits on the board of Fort Point Arts Community and is the President and founding Exhibition Chair for National Association of Women Artists, Massachusetts Chapter (NAWAMA). Her work is featured on the walls of institutions like the Massachusetts State Senate, Boston Consulting Group, Morgan Stanley and Worcester Polytechnic Institute Collection, as well as private collections.