John Felix Arnold '98

Showing at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and doing a residency in Tokyo were huge moments for John Felix Arnold ’98, who has been working full-time as an artist since 2016. Over the last year, Arnold has completed projects in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Mexico. He’s working now on a show he will be doing in Durham this October with RUNAWAY, a Bull City-based apparel and lifestyle brand.  

Q — What have you been up to since graduating from Durham Academy?

A — I spent eight years in Brooklyn, NY, immediately after graduating. I went to Pratt Institute and really found my people and my place in the world. … I worked every job under the sun and trudged through the snow every winter to make it work. I painted and painted, made music, met amazing personalities and learned so much about how to hustle and just how to live life in a satisfying and nonstop way. 

I moved to San Francisco after that to attend grad school, which I happily dropped out of to save some money and to get my feet more firmly grounded and face some demons I was wrestling with. I really came into my own as an artist in the Bay Area. I found a deep consistent style, I worked tirelessly. I still worked all sorts of jobs, but every year came closer and closer to being a full-time artist. I started showing heavily, I started going back to NYC to work on projects and exhibit. I was given the good fortune of cultivating some relationships in Japan and just continued to progress as a person and artist every day. Showing at the SFMOMA [San Francisco Museum of Modern Art] and then doing a residency in Tokyo were huge moments for me. I worked for six years for a major environmental nonprofit and finally was able to leave in 2016 to pursue art full time. In the last year, I have done projects in New York, LA, San Francisco and Mexico.

Q — What are you doing now?

A — I have a show in Durham actually, next October, with RUNAWAY, so I am starting to piece that together and build some programming around it. I am working with a major restauranteur in San Francisco to expand their brand and create some site-specific fine artwork to be woven into the interior design for a new restaurant they have in the works. I have a small show coming up in Oakland at a friend’s gallery space. I am in talks with some Bay Area galleries about doing my first big Bay Area solo show in years. I am very proud of this: I am doing work for Dorrance Dance in NYC. Michelle Dorrance, who is from Chapel Hill and went to Chapel Hill High, has a dance company that is just utterly killing it right now, and I am so honored to be working on commissioned works to create a series of visual assets for her amazing vision.


Very proud and grateful to say I was part of the five artist team that painted this massive MASSIVE 8 story tall mural in Los Angeles. I met the artist who was commissioned to make this happen, Kent Yoshimura @kentaronic, at his solo show closing a number of months ago. Boom the next thing I know I’m on scaffolding helping him and his crew of @lauraweinbergerart @pauljunoart and @xredroosterx paint this beast with him in his home city of San Pedro. It will continue to be one of the dopest experiences of my life. #Repost @kentaronic (@get_repost) ・・・ I can see clearer now the scaffoldings gone ☀️ Sunrise shots always look the coming soon! #art #arte #mural #murals #losangeles #painting #streetart #artlife #sanpedro #california #instaart #instaartist #popart #popsurrealism #lowbrow #anime #manga #climb #travel #la #color #psychedelic #candy #candypaint #theatre #artists #californiaartist #sunshine

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Q — What DA experiences influenced you or helped you get where you are today?

A — My homeroom teacher my freshman year, Ms. [Rochelle] Woodbury, had a huge impact on me. She listened to hip-hop music that was coming out at that time. The world was in a serious renaissance when it came to hip-hop then. The content was full of substance and extremely diverse. It was what is now known as the golden age. A certain diversity of sound, messages, styles and just an explosion of culture and impact came from hip-hop at that time, and she and I were both very into it. We would talk about artists like Nas when his first album dropped in 1994, or the prolific duo from Brooklyn known as Gangstarr, during homeroom and it was really inspiring to know that such a brilliant teacher who was really powerful with her words and ideas found it to be a viable art and important piece of culture and history. It sort of validated me in a way, and it also made me feel connected in a place where I felt truly like an alien most of the time. I took that with me and have always worked to try to relate my experience and interests to others, and always work to have an open dialogue and platform to help people feel a sense of inclusivity and honesty. It also helped me to see that it was important to look to contemporary culture and challenge the things we learned in our textbooks.

Q — What are your interests away from work?

A — I love food and the culture that surrounds it. I love exploring cities as well as nature. I have a deep-rooted love and relationship with the ocean, and I often just go to the beach in San Francisco just to look upon it and feel its presence. I travel as much as possible. I just got back into comics and graphic novels in a more concentrated way. I am into old-school anime and manga for sure, Gundam Model Kits, and some new stuff as well. I love exploring new music as well as bumping all the good stuff I grew up with. I love going to the movies, just recently saw The Disaster Artist and I highly recommend it. I like hiking and a certain amount of outdoorsy stuff. I am into style and seeing the evolution of fashion coming out of youth culture. Style and the evolution of self-expression through fashion, especially from economically distressed areas, is such a powerful piece of the cultural landscape of human history. I was a sneakerhead for many years. I love history and documentaries.

Q — What’s on the horizon for you?

A — I am currently setting up a new studio in Oakland, and I am focusing on larger work and client projects a lot. I am getting back into installation work and have some visions for new ways to present this work to audiences and finding funding for it. I have some new painting ideas I want to explore, bringing some more aspects of figurative realism and oil painting into my work. I have a few specific series in mind that I am sketching and planning. Overall, my work has always come very organically. I am finding that as I continue to let myself be guided by this creative power that is beyond me, that is more of a higher energy, the work grows and evolves and takes new forms and conceptual frameworks. 

Learn more about Arnold's work at