James Siena was born in Oceanside, California in 1957 but lived and grew up in Washington D.C. until the age of 12, when his family moved to California in 1969. He moved to New York in 1975 to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) in 1979 from Cornell.
Asked to name the teacher who most influenced him, Siena quickly cites Mary Croston, an after-school art instructor who taught him as a teenager. Croston treated her young students as “real” artists, says Siena, introducing them to such tools as charcoal and graphite and coaching them in figure drawing. “She just taught the basics; that was very influential,” he says of those classes in the “art hut” behind Croston’s house in Stanford, California. Siena also remembers being “very moved” by the late Peter Kahn, who taught the history of techniques at Cornell. According to Siena, “He was a marvelous Renaissance man” who taught his students such skills as determining whether paper is archival quality and making ink out of toast crumbs and saliva.
When Siena opted to move to New York rather than attend graduate school after finishing his B.F.A. at Cornell University, he found plenty of mentors in the local art community. He was impressed by the “very independent, visionary spirit” of Alan Saret, who took him to the scrap yard and taught him about working with metal. Chuck Close helped him understand “very obvious stuff” like how to approach a relationship with a gallery (Close likened it to a “conversation”) and how to maximize earnings from day jobs to spend more time painting.Before being able to become an artist full-time Siena supported himself as a frame maker.
Siena’s complex, rule-based linear abstractions have situated him firmly within the trajectory of modern American art. His artwork is driven by self-imposed predetermined sets of rules, or “visual algorithms,” which find their end-result in intensely concentrated, vibrantly-colored, freehand geometric patterns. Mr. Siena works across a diverse range of media, including lithography, etching, woodcut, engraving, drawing, and painting. His work is held in numerous prestigious public and private collections across the U.S., including Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Des Moines Art Center and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.