Michael Fenton — https://michaelsfenton.com/

Artist Interview 


Artist Statement for “Art in Healing” Exhibition

My work doesn’t come from a experience with darker regions of the human soul. I’m usually content to tell a story or make a simple statement and rarely originates from a place as deep and profound as Iliyan’s. I’ve avoided the dark areas of the human experience. To laugh is better than to cry, perhaps. But, I understand that  his work is not running a comedy club. He has to react to the human conditions he finds. And, I react to mine.

But both of us, I believe, use art as some sort of personal gyroscope to stay balanced. It’s a therapy or way to deal with what we see or experience. That, in itself, is art as a healing thing. My own art is first a way that helps me achieve balance in my life so that both stress or physical and mental “pain” can be tolerated or reduced and put into perspective. If I could not paint I would first become a physical wreck and then I would go “nuts”.  I’m convinced of that. I have learned that there is something in the creative process that has healing power. I’ve experienced it and I have seen it. And, I believe Winston Churchill said it many years ago.

I recently met two men. One, a man who turned to pencil sketching after experiencing a very serious and debilitating stroke that immobilized one whole side of his body. He began drawing using the bad side of his body and now, four years later he is winning awards with his highly realistic drawings. Before all this he was a carpenter and had never drawn. He is functioning almost normally today, although not as a carpenter. The other a young man in his 20’s who had Cystic Fibrosis and chose painting to express his experiences with this terrible disease. His bravery and talent moved me and he shared it with others to help them understand. He achieved a measure of pleasure in this, but sadly he lost his battle late this past summer. But the memory I carry of his love for painting and the way he smiled while talking about his paintings with me always. This is the healing power of art.

So, while my own art has value to me in my own health, I also volunteer to work with others to bring art into their lives so that they have an opportunity to gain from participating in a healing process. I’ve seen these folks “paint their pain” in order to better explain to others and themselves what their ailment has done to them. What they do appears to me, in a way, similar to your need to express your feelings, emotions, and experiences through your creations. It seems that not only do you get to release a lot of angst but you get to provide others with something that allows them to say/think, “wow, that’s just the way I feel…” or something like that.

Art is often an iceberg with only 10% of it showing. We never see the whole thing when we look at a picture, do we?

“A Most Intimate View” — Never before exhibited collection of ballpoint pen drawings

(click here to view flyer – PDF)
Michael Fenton - Boot“Drawing, for me, has always been a very personal thing. To paraphrase, “I draw, therefore I am.” Drawing is very intimate to me because I must get very close to the subject,emotionally and often physically in order to capture the attitude and character of the subject. I prefer people and things that have lived life enough to have some battle scars because that’s what makes each subject unique. I draw daily, sometimes well and often badly. After several years of drawing and filling books with ink, pencil, and ball pen drawings my wife, Marcia and a few friends convinced me to share some of them with others. This exhibit features drawings in ball point pen, a rather unforgiving and temperamental medium. I guess I owe a vote of thanks to Bic and my wife for making this show a reality. MSF”

“Art to Green” Artist Statement

I believe that painting is a way to communicate and shape one’s personal perceptions and reactions to our personal world. Even small things that may confront us may be poignant and worthy of comment, even if for only a moment.

Painting allows me to observe not only the world around me, but myself. Some paintings record those things that are visible, and they are more representational in style. Other paintings draw more on my feelings about something and I try to convey the less obvious message by creating impressions and telling a little story but sometimes I really want to capture a unique attitude. I try to create interesting views of random thoughts or images. As a result of this, a reviewer once called my work “a representational-narrative art who wants, more than anything, to tell a story or communicate an attitude about the subject and evoke an emotional reaction.” I guess that’s pretty accurate.

Michael Fenton's PaintingMost of my work comes from a combination of personal experience and emotional connection to a subject.  I believe in the power of art to tell a story and to communicate attitudes, ideas and emotions and to create discussion. I believe that underneath today’s superficial world there is a slipstream of truth found in the emotions of people and their circumstances.  I want to integrate these things to create a story in a picture.

Painting is my response to what I feel when I look around. The visual response is not always immediate. Sometimes images, colors and feelings stored away from long ago will push their way to the surface. Other times visual ideas will emerge from unexpected sources and relationships. The process is never quite the same and this helps me to keep a “fresh eye.”

I find that my paintings often have a will of their own and there are always surprises to build on, and taking advantage of them is part of the fun in painting.

Michael S. Fenton


Michael Fenton PortraitA New Jersey artist, Mike Fenton was born and raised in upstate New York but has lived in New Jersey for the past 30 years residing in Morris Plains. After a successful career in the corporate world, he retired to pursue his love of painting. He is a painter who works in a variety of different modes and sizes, ranging from Korean folk painting to realism to near-impressionism. Working primarily from the memory and imagination, he attempts to distill his images to a point where there is a powerful emotional resonance, without being specific or didactic.

He paints primarily in Korean Water Color, oil and acrylic, and the vast majority of his works involve the figure in one way or another. Fenton’s paintings comprise several distinct, yet interrelated bodies of work. His body of Korean folk paintings painted in the traditional style from the early master works of itinerant artists use modern and distinctly western palettes to explore color and the ancient customs and legends as ways to evoke a modern emotional response.  His western style work explores aspects of American society.

Comfort's EmbraceThe “Embraces” series began as a group of sketches of statues and photographs slightly distorted as a result of his overly relaxed sitting position while drawing. The resulting portraits of distorted figures in various embraces grew into an exploration of aspects of our society and relationships, and it incorporates an emotional use of color as well.

His other figurative paintings span a wide range of styles, ranging from portraits to a series of compositions based on snapshots of anonymous people in public places, but all evoke emotional reaction. In addition to his studio work, he also continues studying the ancient Korean folk art and drawing in a private capacity.

His paintings have been collected, and exhibited in the New York and New England area.



Minhwa Studied by Famous American Artist
Michael Fenton, New Jersey Korean Art Center
“The colors are fascinating”

American artist’s study of Minhwas impresses Korean Community

Michael Fenton, who has studied Minhwa for two years loves the way bright colors are used in telling optimistic stories and dealing with interesting subjects. Fenton lives in New Jersey and studies at the Korean Art Center in Ft. Lee, N.J. His teacher is (Duk Hee) Song, a famous Minhwa painter. Fenton said: “Western art is often too negative, pessimistic and dark in its selection of subject matter, but Korean painting is happy, humorous, and positive with a warm childlike innocence”.

Fenton worked as a CPA but now he paints full time. He said that by nature he tends to be an impatient person but has learned to be more patient, calm and better balanced by practicing Minhwa painting.

Later this year Fenton hopes to be able to give a presentation to American groups to help them understand and appreciate Mihhwa better. Teacher Song said that it is unusual for an American painter to complete the difficult Ten Symbols panel painting and it is a tribute to him that his love and passion for Minhwa has allowed him to do so.


2008 Alfa Art Gallery, New Brunswick, NJ, Solo
The Wilson School 28th Invitational, Mountain Lakes, NJ April
Mendham Town Hall, Solo
Korean Cultural Center Exhibition, NYC, June
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Community Theater, Morristown, NJ
Overlook Hospital, Summit, NJ
Livingston Community Center, Livingston, NJ
2007 Alfa Art Gallery, New Brunswick, NJ
Gaelen Art Gallery Juried Invitational, Whippany, NJ
Permanent Exhibitor at Morris County Your Services Center, Morristown, NJ
The Wilson School 27th Invitational, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Community Theater, Morristown, NJ
Overlook Hospital, Summit, NJ
2006 The Wilson School 26th Invitational, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Arts Council of the Morris Area, Morristown, NJ, Solo Show
Visual Art Center of NJ, International Juried Show, Summit NJ
Arts Council of the Morris Area, Studio Tour Show
Gaelen Art Gallery Juried Invitational, Whippany, NJ
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Atrium Art Gallery, Morristown, NJ
Bernardsville Public Library, Bernardsville, NJ
2005 The Wilson School 25th Invitational, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Gaelen Art Gallery Juried Invitational, Whippany, NJ
Gaelen Art Gallery, Solo Show, Whippany, NJ
Morris County Library, Solo, Morristown, NJ
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Dillon Library, Bridgewater, NJ
Visual Arts Center of NJ
2004 The Wilson School 24th Invitational, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Gaelen Art Gallery Juried Invitational, Whippany, NJ
Tides Institute Maritime Center, Eastport, ME
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Visual Arts Center of NJ
Saratoga Springs Art Festival and Exhibition, Saratoga Springs, NY
2003 The Wilson School 23rd Invitational, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Visual Arts Center of NJ
2002 The Wilson School 22nd Invitational, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Visual Arts Center of NJ


Michael Fenton

Early influences

Early Korean murals were painted on the walls of tombs during the fourth century, and continue to this day. Today, many Korean artists keep the styles and forms of the traditional artists alive, some blending the traditional styles with modern motifs. Some paint in a completely modern style. Just as today, painters from many countries study abroad to learn the styles of other countries’ masters or their traditions, the early Korean painters traveled abroad to study the works of those that were considered masters. In the fourth century, China was considered to be the center of the universe. As such, many Korean painters were sent to China to learn modern Chinese painting styles. What they learned, influenced not only the paintings of Korea, but subsequently the art of Japan, when many Korean artisans went or were taken to Japan.

The Period of Three Kingdoms

There were three kingdoms dating from 37 BC until 668, called Shilla, Paekje and Koguryo Each of the three kingdoms had its own unique painting style, influenced by a geographical region in China with which that kingdom had trade and political relations. Early Shilla paintings, while said to be inferior in technique to those of Koguryo and Paekche, were somewhat more fanciful and free-spirited. Some of them could almost be considered impressionistic. Paekche paintings did not lean toward realism and were more stylized in an elegant free-flowing style. In marked contrast to the paintings of Shilla and Paekche, the paintings of Koguryo were dynamic and active and often showed scenes of tigers fleeing archers on horseback. Following the assimilation of Paekche and Koguryo into the Unified Shilla Kingdom, the three uniquely different painting styles grew into one and were further influenced by continued contact with China by the Shilla state. Examples of the early art are rare, as much of it was destroyed during the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th Century.

The Koryo Period (918-1392)

During this time there was a proliferation of painters because many aristocrats began painting for their own intellectual stimulation, and because Buddhism was spreading. As Buddhism grew so did the need for paintings with Buddhist motifs. In their day these paintings were considered elegant and refined but by today’s standards they might be considered a bit gaudy.

The Chosun Period (1392-1910)

minhwaThere were many changes during this period, political and artistic. The decline of the strong Buddhist culture led to a reduction in quality artistic products and it also pushed Korean painting away from its emphasis on religious motifs. At the same time, Korean artists continued to be influenced by Chinese artists but added a powerful essence of native Korean sensibility. This nationalistic sensitivity was strengthened by the Silhak, or practical learning movement, which emphasized understanding based on actual observance. Korean paintings began to incorporate actual scenes of the Korean countryside and people engaged in common activities. This uniquely Korean flavor of painting also can be seen in the stylized depictions of animals, and plants and the natural countryside.

The Japanese Occupation (Colonial Period of 1910-1945)

The Japanese nearly succeeded in wiping out the tradition and artifacts of Korean painting. During this time, most things Korean were suppressed, including the language, arts, and customs in an attempt to assimilate the Koreans into the Japanese culture. Korean painting culture was likewise suppressed by the Japanese in favor of Western or Chinese styles – both of which had been adopted by the Japanese. After Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, Korea’s painting tradition was revived by a number of Korean artisans in the same way the art of making celadon was revived. The challenge was to overcome years of suppression that resulted in a kind of national inferiority complex about the value of things uniquely Korean. The separation of Korea into North and South didn’t help the resurrection of Korea’s sense of artistic self but in the last 20 years the emergence of traditional and contemporary Korean art has been a boon to art lovers everywhere.

Types of Korean Paintings

Categorizing Korean painting styles is a daunting task and requires more space than this article allows, but in general, Korean paintings can be broken down into the following: categories.

Paintings from the three kingdoms period include a great number of the paintings during the Koryo period that were of the religious variety due to the powerful influence of Buddhism at that time. Also, during this period, the idea of paintings emphasizing actual scenery or scenes rather than stylized ideas began to increase in popularity.

The richest variety is found in the styles of the Chosun period and are the most imitated today. While some of these types of paintings did exist in the earlier three kingdoms, and Koryo periods, it was during the Chosun period that they came into their own. The paintings of the Chosun period can be broken down into five categories: landscape or nature paintings, genre, Minhwa, the Four Gracious Plants, and portraits.

Landscape or nature paintings

Often called the realistic landscape school, the practice of painting landscapes based on actual scenes became more popular during the mid-Chosun period. During this time, many painters traveled the countryside in search of beautiful scenery to paint.

genre paintingGenre paintings

As the interest in realistic landscapes thrived, so did the practice of painting realistic scenes of people doing ordinary things. This has become known as Genre painting, This style is uniquely Korean and it gives us a view of the daily lives of ordinary people of that time. The most famous of this work was done in the second half of the 18th century by Kim Hong-Do.

Another of the great genre painters was Shin Yun-bok (1758-?), who’s paintings of often risqué scenes were both romantic and sensual


Minhwa, or paintings of the people, are by far the most interesting of the traditional Korean paintings. The characteristics of Minhwa paintings are that they were all painted by unknown artists, and all were painted near the end of, or after the Chosun period (1392-1910), though many of them appear childlike or unsophisticated, most show great painting skill in brushwork, detail, color ad use of line. Under the Minhwa category of paintings are many sub-categories. In brief they are:

  • Landscape Paintings – Some of the most common of the Minhwa genre, Minhwa landscape paintings can follow any of the traditional styles from the earlier periods.
  • Magpies and Tigers – One of the most popular themes next to landscapes, the tigers are usually depicted in a comical manner and are shown with a magpie squawking at them from a tree – the magpie is considered a carrier of good news.
  • Flowers and Birds – Paintings with flowers are usually quite colorful while those that depict animals generally show animals in pairs with the Sun, or Moon. These motifs can be seen on some modern lacquered boxes, and music boxes as well.
  • minhwaPeonies – The peony symbolizes wealth, honors and high social position and is used extensively in Minhwa paintings as well as in celadon.
  • Lotus Flowers – Though it originally represented the Sun and the mercy of Buddha, in Minhwa paintings it has come to represent high government officials.
  • The Ten Longevity Symbols – The symbols are the Sun, clouds, mountains, rocks, water, cranes, deer, turtles, pine trees, and mushrooms. These symbols can be found in many Minhwa paintings and also on modern lacquered boxes and celadon designs.
  • Dragons – The dragon can represent a variety of meanings including repelling evil spirits and bringing rain.
  • Paintings of Tiger Hide – As the cost of real tiger hides was prohibitive, paintings that resembled tiger skin were used to provoke the tigers’ power as a guardian.
  • Fish and Crabs – Usually appear in pairs kissing or otherwise being amorous.
  • Manchurian Hunting Scenes – Used as a sign of bravery these paintings often decorated military quarters.
  • One Hundred Children – Representing the 100 children from heaven they reflect a wish for many, healthy descendants.
    Paintings of the Life Cycle – Used primarily to depict the life of a scholar-official.
  • Bookcases and Scholars’ Rooms – Similar to a Western still-life, these paintings showed the accoutrements of a scholar.
  • Shamanistic Deities – These paintings usually showed shamanistic rites or deities.

The Four Gracious Plants

Also known as the Four Gentlemanly Plants, or the Four Seasons symbols, these consist of plum blossoms, orchids or wild orchids, chrysanthemums, and bamboo. Originally, these were Confucian symbols for the four qualities of a learned man, but are now more commonly associated with the four seasons. They are (1) plum blossoms representing courage, (2) the orchid, for refinement, (3) the chrysanthemum, a sign of a productive, and fruitful life, and (4) bamboo representing integrity. In modern times, the four are usually associated with the seasons; plum blossoms bravely bloom in the cold of an early spring, orchids disseminate a fragrance far into the warmth of summer, chrysanthemums overcome the first cold of a late fall by blooming, and bamboo bares its green leaves even in the winter.


Portraits were painted throughout Korean history but were produced in greater numbers during the Chosun period. The main subjects of the portraits were kings, meritorious subjects, elderly officials, literati or aristocrats, women, and Buddhist monks. To the unschooled western eye, most of these portraits appear to be religious in nature… but they are not.

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