Briefly describe the work you do.
My art centers on creating paintings, drawings and monotypes. I produce a short film or script about every ten years or so. Each media offers a different creative outlet that roughly fits most of my ideas. Viewers most often describe my work as dark, beautiful, frightening, literate and passionate, although usually not in the same sentence. I refer to my work as art in a minor key.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I was born behind the wall of West Berlin in the mid-1960’s. My father was in the U.S. military and my family moved often. By the time I was three, we had left Berlin for Texas, with intervening stops in Indiana and California. Our next destination was to be Moscow, but everything changed with the sudden death of my father. We settled in a small city in Indiana to be close to my mother’s family. I remember drawing a lot as a child and making animated movies with lumpy clay dinosaurs.
My father’s untimely passing, along with our semi-nomadic existence, left me acutely aware of the transitory nature of life at an early age. And even though I enjoyed a fairly settled life afterward, it informs my art to this day.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I work with traditional artist’s media, so I work in a traditional artist’s studio. We have this “idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room” because that room is usually the best place in which to produce an object like a painting or a print.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Teaching. Even though I don’t teach professionally, I often find myself educating others about my work, another artist’s work or the art world in general. Art can be intimidating and opaque to many people, including younger artists. Advocating for my discipline in this way helps spread the understanding of art, even if it is only one person at a time.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I’ve always preferred to work at night. As I’ve grown older and my life has become more complex, however, I’ve taught myself to work at any time. I try to work everyday, whether it’s spending five or six hours on a large painting or an hour adding color highlights to a monotype.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
The form of my work has changed little over the past five years. Although it feels more refined to me, I paint, draw and make monotypes in much the same way as I have for many years. The major change to my work has been in the amount of wit and humor (however dark) I invest in it. Many artists avoid humor in their work because they’re afraid of not being seen as “serious.” If you’ve ever studied the life of a comedian, you’ll know how deadly serious humor can be.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I read a great deal and a few authors loom large as major influences. I refer to them as the three “B”s: J.G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski. An honorable mention goes to Philip K. Dick.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
FBI profiler. No really, I think I’d be good at it. Although the thought of shaking J. Edgar Hoover’s mummified hand gives me the willies.
Although I had always been interested in art, I did not seriously study art until I went to college. I graduated from Indiana University at South Bend in 1988 and received an MFA from Western Michigan University in 1994. My work has been shown in numerous group and one-person exhibitions throughout the Midwest. At one of those solo shows, a visitor said to me, “I bet you love scary movies.” It was more of an announcement than a question. I thought for a moment and replied, “No, but I feel compelled to watch them.”
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.
Your work really resonates with me. Great stuff!!
Great interview, James–articulate and witty!
Great interview — so good to know your art and you!