J.D. Pederson grew up in a tight-knit, poor Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago.
“There were block parties every summer, and we would share food and laughs with our Puerto Rican families, and our Mexican, African American, Polish and Italian neighbors,” he said. What he experienced in culture lacked in sophistication and, while he has fond memories and lifelong friends from his childhood, his sights were elsewhere – to the world beyond.
“I was 13 in the late 1970s, and as a young Puerto Rican boy, I felt both a kinship, and a loathing for my surroundings,” he said.
A new family moved into the neighborhood and with them came new doors to the world. They took him on vacations which included caving, rafting, theme parks and museums. One of the older brothers was studying fashion design and took notice of Pederson’s love for drawing. They would sketch together for hours, talking about politics and religion, art and music, and the meaning of life.
“He and his family were always encouraging me to fine tune my skills and love of art,” he said. “And they gave me the hope and belief that I could be anything that I wanted to be.”
He has sketched and painted ever since, using the outlet as a sort of spiritual journey.
At 20, Pederson moved to St. Louis, Mo., where he studied art at a community college. At 21, after years of dating women to fit in, he came out to his family who were supportive and not at all surprised, he said. Then, he became a flight attendant and spent the next six years traveling the world and exploring museums, restaurants and gay communities. “They weren’t living in the shadows like I expected,” he said.
He taught a flight attendant course in Honolulu for a couple of years. When he became a single father, he quit to raise his daughter, spending the next 17 years on the ground in Florida. When his daughter went out on her own, she moved to Spokane. A year ago, he moved to the area and, after Washington legalized same-sex marriage, he married his husband.
In May, Pederson hung his paintings for the first time at Andy’s, 1401 W. First Ave., where he was working at the time. The response was immediate and positive.
“It was shocking really,” he said. “I sold work and made a decision; it’s time to do what I am supposed to be doing and that’s painting full time.”
Working in acrylic or oils, Pederson paints his representation of enlightenment, capturing moments of contemplation and thoughts that cannot be explained in words with serene faces, blocks of color that seemingly grow into one another or a cloud formation slowly moving over rocks in the ocean.
His journey is only just beginning; some future exhibits are in the works.
“I paint because it brings me peace, and I feel a connection to something that I can’t really explain,” he said. “I paint for the satisfaction of seeing my visions realized.”