Mimi: how are you doing?
James: Hey fine, welcome to the studio
Mimi: Thank you. My first question is, how did you decide to become an artist? When did you decide?
James: Probably my senior year of college I was writing my thesis, I was a history and political science major. I was on a work study program, I was writing my thesis. I took a painting class the painting instructor was sort of a bizarre character, he was great for me, after taking history and history professors an art teacher was a breath of fresh air. I took all the life drawing classes, all the basics with him, my work study was being involved with the ceramics department, mixing clay, rebuilding kilns, salt fire kilns, wood fire kilns, you name it, I have re-built them. At that point, that is when I decided to do art, but I still had it in my head from my upbringing that, you are never going to make a living.
Mimi: So, your parents wanted you to go into something more practical, and you did, right?
James: Which was law, I went to law school
Mimi: What type of law did you practice?
James: I wanted to do International law; International law was my romantic dream, to do that. I lasted a year in law school, Franklin Pierce Law School and headed off to Europe.
Mimi: Now, let’s go back; was it in high school or college, the arts?
James: I was always playing music, I was always in bands, I was sort of more of the fringe in high school. I was a pain in the ass in high school, now having my daughter who is eighteen; she is a pain in the ass, so the tradition lives! Now being fifty seven and living with an eighteen year old, I realized I must have been a real pain in the ass. Through college you get a little more serious as you get close to graduation, ok what am I going to do? I was always set for political science, I always enjoyed that.
Mimi: So how did that lead to you being a painter and sculpture, photographer?
James : I think that as I got older, I also got more sure of myself, I think that history gave me a lot more self confidence in terms of visualizing painting in a historical framework, in terms of art history and realizing there is a possibility of furthering yourself with the arts.
Mimi: And what medium did you start with?
James: I started with oil on canvas
Mimi: and you continued with oil
James: I switched over to acrylic due to health reasons but I miss the sensuousness that you have with oil paint. Acrylics dry quickly; you can put retarders in there to have them slow but you are dealing with a plastic, it is just not the same feel.
Mimi: a little less forgiving
James: Yes, sort of like people
Mimi: Now, how do your emotions come into play when you are painting? Are you apt to work when you are feeling upset or do you work more when you are content and have everything in its place?
James: No, I am pretty disciplined regarding painting. When I come into the studio, if I don’t feel like painting, I put on the music and I do anything I can, I put a mark on the canvas, it doesn’t matter if it is a pencil mark, I have to get over that initial, I don’t feel creative, or your blocked or scared, You just sort of dive into it. I think that is a lesson that I have learned from a painter that I met early in my career, there is no creative moment to work, you just work and you just get it done. Is there creativity once that is done? yes, then it kicks in now you’re not scared, now you just working with what’s ever available and then you are over it, because I think the professional aspect in terms of getting your work done isn’t based on emotion, you just have to get it done. The emotion comes into it as you are working. I’m not a real emotional painter in terms of, do I scream and dance and throw paint at the canvas, I’m not that type of artist. I am much more methodical in some aspects which is my personality, so that carries through. It is a job really.
Mimi: Do you plan out a canvas before you begin?
James: I have a rough idea of subject of what I am trying to do, like this whole white flag series that I have done is based on a theme that develops in terms of having this chronic disease, not giving up, not raising the white flag.
Mimi: What about colors? Have you decided what colors you want to use before you start?
James: there is only one particular color that gets used consistently and that is an aqua turquoise which to me represents the Mediterranean Sea, which has always been an escape for me. Living in Europe, southern France for ten years, that has been a profound influence on my work.
Mimi: Now I want to talk a little bit about the kidney transplant.
Mimi: When you were in Boston ………………where did you have the transplant?
James: I had the transplant done here in Seattle.
Mimi: So you were not feeling up to par at all when you were living in Boston.
James: I was feeling pretty good in Boston Actually. I was at the Mass General Beth Israel. I had a really good doctor we got on quite well, no problem. Before I flew out here I was sort of panicky, I was asking him, how long are my kidneys going to last? No one was able to venture a guess because they don’t know, it is too varied. He looked at me, Ted Steinman and said you’ve got about four years and I was sort of floored, I thought, wow! Four years, I can get a lot of things done before things go south quickly and it was true, it was almost four years. My kidneys failed starting May of last year.
Mimi: So, were you doing dialysis?
James: No, I skirted under the issue. In the end of May I received a phone call out of the blue that I was eligible, they needed a blood sample, on Saturday morning I went in and gave a blood sample, by Saturday evening they called me at 6:30, Sunday I went in and had the transplant, so it happened within 3 days. I have been feeling absolutely phenomenal since then. The kidney I received once again for people that are on the fence about donating a kidney or an organ. This gentleman was in a car accident, a 21 year old, over Memorial Day weekend, head trauma and his parents donated every organ that they could which is a heavy decision, I have thought about that with my own daughter. Would I do that? Donate every organ. She is fine with it and I feel better, if something would to happen to her, I would donate every organ. That person’s organ saved thirteen people, their lives, it gave me a totally different life, to be able to work on this book project, to be able to finish paintings, to be able to see my daughter graduate …High school…………………just that one gift and it is extremely important that people think about donating an organ. I have one great kidney and that is basically all you need, all my levels are incredible, they haven’t been this good in fifteen years, so of course I am psyched.
Mimi: that must have been fantastic!
James: yes, for two years, I was barely able to work. To be able to be electrified, to be able to create projects and think of different art work and think of new ideas.
Mimi: and have the energy
James: and have the energy at 57 is great. I’m thrilled
Mimi: Now I want to start talking about your work a little bit, so in your bio you talk about using photography as source material for art and I know that you combine painting and photographic images together, so talk to me about that a little bit. I was also reading about the lines and scratches and that would be interesting to share how you view those things. How you see them.
James: OK, Now that is a question with a surprise. Early on I was a landscape painter because the person I worked with early on Peder Johnson was a Cezanne nut, we would track off into the New Hampshire landscape and paint, there’s many rock formations in New Hampshire and we would paint these rocks constantly, forms, shadows, light, that is where I learned to paint was out in the open air, and from that, developing it, the line and the shadow always attracted me, which brought me into photography early on. I was always a Alfred Hitchcock nut from growing up watching those black and white TV shows every week, to his movies, a great use of shadow especially the black and white were always mysterious to me, that whole life goes on you can take it to Hitchcock to Cezanne you can take it to Titian you can go all the way back in art history and the importance a shadow makes, you can go all the way back especially to Cezanne in terms of breaking that up his use of color and placement of color, the cubist thing. How the lined developed into the work was always this sterility that sometimes painting surfaces have and I wanted some type of texture and I wanted to show some type of hand involved which was important so hence the scratching came in the surface of the piece. The photography came in much later, sort of putting that into work. I haven’t really done that recently for about three or four years because I was going down this white flag series, a lot of stripes, basically a lot of stripes.
Mimi: The stripes and the lines are significant to you, correct?
James: The stripes for me act as a very simplified form that I really don’t have to think about. To me it tells a lot, the influences of stripes came from the French louvered windows you see in all the French houses which really attracted me, I love those louvers, I always loved the way the light came in those and cast shadows on the ground, you’ve got this dark and light, dark and light, dark and light and I always wanted to see how you could contrast those shapes. So, a lot of the paintings in the white flag series deal with interiors, they are all interior spaces, they are just flattened out. The aqua which you see in a lot of these paintings is the outside which takes you from the interior to the exterior of the space. Nobody really sees that, so how successful they are …………
Mimi: I found that fascinating that you have a very clear vision
James : Yes, so that is the process, it may look spontaneous and they are in terms of color placement in terms of under painting in terms of what goes into that piece but they are methodical, my personality is that way. So that is how I started to paint and how I developed.
Mimi: I suppose looking at each one of them the color combinations give you a feeling or sense of very different emotions when you look at the combinations, seeing them in different rooms.
James: Yes, as we went through the house today, I mean do I get lazy and use certain colors over and over? Yes I do.
Mimi: Well we develop an affinity with certain colors
James: Yes, and sometimes I will escape back to the comfort of something I am familiar with in terms of color schemes and I think everybody does that and then sometimes you just have to break out, move another four feet and branch out, then you move on, I don’t see it as a bad thing, I see it as a comfortable pillow.
Mimi: That is a nice description. Now, the camera is like another set of eyes, when you shoot does this change you’re prospective when you are looking through a lens?
James: No, a lot of what I do in terms of photography has to do with the use of space, that’s a good question actually, cause a lot of times when I photograph the artist in their studios, a lot has to do with how the angles line up in terms of the door being a flat surface, the floor, how those work within the lens frame. Where the placement is, in the post production part, Photoshop kicks in and then I start to create that mystery of the photo as to what it is I wanted to capture. Take your photograph, it shows a lot in terms of what the lighting was like in your studio at that time, then the final product. Once again the use of Alfred Hitchcock in his color along with Vermeer, because I liked the way Vermeer showed the highlights of the face, his shadows are also very important but the combination of Vermeer and Alfred Hitchcock into those photographs which to me are an important aspect of how I want to portray the people I am portraying on the other side, you have to capture who that person is and not have my technique over shadow.
Mimi: You have to capture them rather quickly because you don’t do any background research, you just go in. That must be very interesting going into the different artists environments.
James: Yes, it is fun, I mean that whole avenue in terms of this photography project that started in Boston and is continuing here has been enlightening for me because I don’t research the people I am going to photograph, and they don’t know me, I don’t know them. It all comes down to, we sit down, we have a cup of coffee very much what I have done with you and we get to know each other, you see the way they eat, you see the way they drink their coffee, you see the way they want their coffee made, how they do it, you learn a lot from people and food and how they interact with their food. From that standpoint, that is when I start to develop who this individual is, what his or her art work is about and then come up together as two artists, they get to know me by seeing who I am, my coffee, how I eat, what I eat, so this process goes on and by the end we are artists we both work together and come up with the final image and the project itself is done, that is how I view these, it is a joint project with two people working together.
Mimi: Now speaking of food! I asked you what your request was for food and you wanted a meatball sub, so what is the connection with that, why a meatball sub?
James: I was really under pressure to come up with a food that would be interesting for me. My background is Italian on my mothers and fathers side and I thought what better, especially because I am from Philadelphia, so what better than a meatball sub! You can tell a lot about the way people cook by cooking a meatball and meatballs are, everyone has their own version of a meatball, so I wanted to see what your version of a meatball was and how you pulled it together and I have been quite impressed by the way you pulled it together, the combination of ingredients that you used shows me in terms of your creativity your forming, the whole bag you brought was a whole study in itself. I could photograph just the bag and done an installation piece really, six feet high almost like Klaus Oldenburg but in a different vein. So that is why I came up with that.
Mimi: Yes, it is always a challenge, the food
James: Well, you learn a lot about people from the food.
Mimi: Yes, a lot of people want something that they find comforting and something from home, most people ask for that.
James: Something cozy
Mimi: Tell me about when you lived in France; you lived in France for ten years?
Mimi: How did you end up there?
James: It is a long story, one of the things I did when I was in New Hampshire, I was able to write grants for an artists’ colony in southern New Hampshire called MacDowell colony, I worked there for two years writing grants for them, it started off first doing historical research on one of the cabins there which was Evan MacDowell original cabin on the landscape which is probably 120-130 acres of grounds in southern New Hampshire where he would compose, he is an American composer. When he died his wife started this artist colony , so at the time I was there, there were 25 cabins in the woods which would support visual artists, musicians, playwrights, writers, poets, you name it, they would get there and for three months they wouldn’t have to pay anything , they get their own cabin if they were a musician they would make sure there was a grand piano in it, if they were painters they would make sure they had good light, whatever they would want, they would be able to get.
Mimi: Fantastic, does this still exist?
James: Yes, it still exists, it is an incredible place and I was lucky to be there. I did get a fellowship there for three months back in 1979, which was beneficial for me. That was one of the more instrumental pieces. The woman who was there was the director at the time was Nancy Englander, we got along very well together, she eventfully went to the Getty to head the Getty, she was able to get me a job being a director of an art colony in southern France was run by a Hungarian woman in Vass where Matisse had worked when he was convalescing. Matisse chapel is in Vass that once again is a long story. That is how I ended up in France. I used take journeys to Paris usually in the winter. I would take time off from the MacDowell, I would go there, spend three months there, play music in the subways
Mimi: France, there is a place for food!
James: There is a place for food. I am in my early 20s, no overhead; you can be as Bohemian as you want, you have all the ideas of musicians that have gone, all these writers that have gone to Paris and made their thing which I have always been wrapped up in the romance of the whole thing, so I was doing it.
Mimi: It is a romantic city
James: It is a romantic city, your young, you’re meeting artists from all over the world, and you’re up at four in the morning running around Paris, you’re playing in subways
Mimi: were you smoking cigarettes?
James: Yes, and your living that whole life and meeting a lot of different artists and in the day you are sketching in the Louvre, you are learning about all the other artists, you’re looking at Cézannes, you’re looking at Matisse’s, you just look at a lot of art work and you are learning which goes into this whole thing about Seattle which is another subject. Seattle, the arts and how in some aspects I view Seattle are differently, some very weird differences between us. Back to France, eventually I went to art school in Province which is where Cezanne painted; the Cezanne influence was very strong in terms of my formative years of painting and then eventually heading down to a town called Eze-sur-Mer and living with an American couple who were both writers, I lived there for six years and painted, so that was my whole journey there, that has left a profound mark on my whole life was that ten years, living there and experiencing cultures, traveling to Berlin when it was still east and west, Munich, seeing the art museum, the collections all the way across was extremely beneficial when you are a young kid.
Mimi: Soaking it all up
James: You got it. I was lucky to have the opportunity to do that because I have always been resourceful in terms of money, being able to manage money. One of the most important things I have learned in history is taking business classes and the importance of knowing business and knowing how money works and your art work which once again we can elaborate on in terms of a lot of different subjects which have been important in terms of my development, in terms of my work in the museum school in Boston, older artists in terms of money management, what they could do for their taxes and how to basically survive.
Mimi: so you’ve got those practical skills
James: Yes, which is important? I think it is only five or six percent of artist that graduate from art school do their art work full time as they get into their 30s and 40s. Life catches up with everybody.
Mimi: How do you compare the Boston art scene with the Seattle art scene?
James: That is a great question, a very hard question to answer. I did discuss this the other day with an artist here, a graphic designer and visual artist more about installation art in some aspects, we were discussing the same subject in terms of performance art in Seattle seems to be large and it is an area of the arts that I was not familiar with when I started working on this project, in terms of working on this photography project has brought in a lot of performance people, Mimi Allin who is an incredibly talented woman, does pieces also a writer, poet who had been very beneficial in terms of turning me onto a whole segment of artists in Seattle have really grown to appreciate that market, or that group of people within this market. Regarding visual artists, Seattle tends to be much more figurative in terms of its painting, less abstract, that is one large difference in terms of the art markets here. In Boston, if you haven’t shown in New York, same thing in Philly, if you have not shown in New York, you’ve shown in Philly, it is not the same thing as New York. Here I think it is LA, I think if you haven’t shown in LA same thing, LA and New York are two of the largest centers, I think that both of those cities have extremely great museums which I think nurture the visual artist and artists in general, I think the lack of a world class museum, I’m not putting Seattle art museum down at all or the art.
‘s in general in Seattle, I am just place to learn is in a museum. I know that sometimes when I‘m having a problem working on a subject, I used to love going to the MFA and walking through areas that I never normally see, the Egyptian section, the Persian miniature section getting ideas and inspiration, I can’t do that here, if I’m having a problem how to stick something on to a painting, it would be nice to go and see a artist who has done this or see the mechanics of what that artist went through that I could learn, I don’t have it here. I have argued with a lot of artists here in terms of that, some people feel it is not important, others feel it is. I am in the camp where I feel it is important that the museum here has a really important part to play within the strength of the art market, in terms of the arts in general, there is no museum school here for the arts, is there a lot of great talent here? Yes, I believe there are a lot of interesting people here. I think the writing is incredible, I think performance is incredible, I think the gallery system here is great. I don’t know a lot about the clientele. I ship all my paintings back east, I don’t sell anything here and that is where I have nurtured, Recently speaking with some of the artists here I am probably going to turn my attention to the west coast, I think I am not going to move back, so I’ve got to get my head wrapped into this area. So, those are some of the aspects that I find different.
Mimi: I want to talk about the book project, the big project! Did you start this project in Boston?
Mimi: OK, start from the beginning
James: Oh my God!
Mimi: just give me an encapsulated explanation of what you’re doing.
James: I can do that! The book originally started out as a guide for younger artists, it was going to be involved with interviewing mid career visual artists only, very limited when I think about it, but that is what I felt comfortable with. I was a painter, especially being my age, I wanted to meet people from 40s up to 60s, that was my market. Why are you at this age still able to paint full time? I wanted to get their stories and I got a lot of various stories about what it takes, teaching positions are cut throat, everybody is waiting for someone to die so they can take their place, other people do paintings that sell but that is not long lasting, a lot of people have been savvy in their money use, most artists I find that have been able to do it have a fairly strong business sense in terms of how to run a business. De Kooning was extremely bright, actually Jackson Pollock was OK but the alcohol got to him, Clifford Still, a lot of lawyers believe it or not. Matisse was a lawyer.
Mimi: That makes sense, to have a balance of both sides actually.
James: Picasso, the ultimate businessmen, he was very good at business, he knew how to cut a deal he knew how to price art work, he knew how to do all that stuff, that is why all those guys wore ties while they painted, you know you look at all the surrealists, they all have ties on and they are painting with their paint brushes, I always thought, are they going to paint on their lunch break and then shoot out back to the office? It was funny, that is just how they painted. This side of the arts is really important, how do you support retirement, how do start putting money away, when you are young you don’t think about it, retirement, but as you get older you start thinking, Jesus, how am I going to pull this off. It is a heavy issue; people don’t like to think about it. I don’t like to think about it but I have to deal with it. How do you put a kid through college? How do you start to deal with all this life stuff which is why the filtering process, you have a lot of artists in their 20s a little less in their 30s, a little less in their 40s you have less in their 50s.
Mimi: So how many artists have you interviewed?
James: I have interview close to 40 different artists
Mimi: Is this going to be a book?
James: It is going to be a book; the focus of the book is changed from being a sort of guide for younger artists as now it is a project with photographing artists of different disciplines in terms of poets, writers, performance people, video, painters, and sculptures installation artists.
Mimi: So the project has gotten much larger in scope!
James: It’s a circus! I view it as a circus. I literally view it as a Fellini movie and there is just a cast of characters, there is an album cover somewhere where they have fire eaters, strong guys
Mimi: The Doors
James: Yes, that it! That is the way I visualize this and if I was able to ever get all these artists together in one photograph, I would want them to just be circus performers, that is what artists are, they are performers one way or the other. Getting them to the point of just being themselves, and you went through that process of not performing, especially performance artists, they want to perform. Male painters want to stand in front of their paintings; I’m in front of one of mine. I don’t know why, do I lose my personality if I am not in front of my paintings?
Mimi: Maybe it is a security thing
James : I don’t know what it is but it is a real puzzling aspect, females, less so, females don’t have that, they are much looser, much more spontaneous, males are………………………..this is probably why I don’t like having my photograph taken. Eventfully what I want to do is do the book, photos, put all these people together in a group to create separate art work. Mixing up three people that don’t know each other, three different disciplines to come up with a project together, would there be a theme? There could be, strangers working together ‘
Mimi: The Adam and Eve theme
James: the Adam and Eve theme in terms of having males and females represent Eve in how they pull that single subject together , that is a good idea, maybe everybody works together, I think that’s it ! Thank you. That is a great idea actually, that aspect in terms of bringing three strangers together, put it into a show, a month long of static pieces, in terms of what would hang in the studio also having performance pieces with it, doing the photography, so there will be photos on the wall, three dimensional pieces, poets reading, performance artists and one of the pieces I want to do which is on my mind for a while is having the human jungle, my idea of the human jungle was to have a choir of screaming and I am trying to get the choral director of St James to choreograph this. A woman In a beach chair in a blue striped bathing suit on reading Baudelaire, in front of them on a mound of sand, in front of her would be these performance artists acting like they were people on the beach, you’ve got three layers, the choir, the woman on the beach chair and then you’ve got these people moving across or in front as she was watching the water and they would be moving extremely slow, that is the beauty of performance artists and dancers they can do that stuff, so you have the screaming, the woman trying to relax and these slow motion people going down there and that would happen, you would have the screaming, that would fade out, the dancers would sort of go down and she would read a passage from Baudelaire in French and then the screaming would stop, they would go up and go across the stage , that would happen three times, at the end the choir is gone, the performance artists are gone the only one left is the woman in the beach chair, she reads her last passage in English, closes the book, puts it on her stomach it is quiet, the lights go down, the end of the piece. I was lucky enough to travel to Western Africa; I was in Chad for awhile due to these people in France who worked as historical writers, they took me there, so one of the things about the jungle is the noise, the birds, talking and screaming, it is just incredible the noises, so I was trying to contemplate that, I was thinking OK what is the most natural sounds that humans make? Screaming, my example is if someone was cutting your leg off, you’re not saying Holly shit that hurts! You are like screaming to no end, there are no holds barred when you are screaming, so that is one of the natural sounds , which is why I wanted this screaming choir to do it and try and choreograph that in terms of sopranos, baritones and tenors, it would be incredible.
Mimi: Sounds like an Artaud production
James: I think it would be thrilling, a month long special
Mimi: When do you think?
James: I’m looking at 2014. I was hoping to get through the photographs, it is large in scope and a lot of it is taking longer because of the process of pulling these people together. I am still looking for a great curator to start to bring this to more of cohesiveness and being an artist I am not a curator, that is what they do and I don’t want to do that aspect. I come up with the idea, bring these people together but I need a curator to be able to mold that something that is not package able but something that could go to a certain space and I realize that, so that is how this whole project is evolving from teaching guide to month long series of performances with strangers
Mimi: It sounds good! My last question, if you could do a combination of any two artists in the collage from that you do and they could be living or dead, who would you choose to combine together?
James: I would probably take Richard Diebenkorn and Titian because of the use of spaces, those are the two I would love to combine and why?
The use of space, I think Titian and his color, I think that Diebenkorn was also quite a colorist
Mimi: Them themselves, shooting the people themselves, photographing them
James: Who would I want to photograph in art history? Off the top of my head I would probably love to photograph Picasso because I would have liked to talk to him and I don’t think that Cezanne was much of a talker, I think probably Jackson Pollack, Picasso and Pollack, I think Jackson Pollock
Mimi: What a temperamental combination that would be!
James: Yes! I think Picasso would have been easier to talk to, I think from reading of Pollack, had a lot of issues and I think may have been pretty interesting to meet him and to see what those issues were and see what he was really about, I mean you have this sort of characture of who Pollock was but I would imagine it goes beyond.
Mimi: Much more complex
James: Yes, in his work, what he could have developed was action painting which goes back to abstraction and figurative art, to me, why I loved abstraction is that abstraction in my case tends to hit you all at once, there is no process, you are thrown out there same as when people look at my work, what the hell is it? What are you trying to do? Which is great, where a lot of times when you have figurative work you see everything but you see nothing, because people get caught up on the details, they know that is a foot, they know that is an orange.
Mimi: Something familiar
James: Yes, and they look at all the details, they look at how it is rendered and how it is done, so once again you see everything but you see nothing in abstraction, everything hits you at once which is what I love, it hits the viewer in two different ways, so pulling it back to Pollack, I would like to see what Pollack would think of abstraction and doing what he was doing.
Mimi: James, thank you so much for the interview, I enjoyed it
James: That was fun
Mimi: Thank you
I suggest a nice baguette which is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside
Meatballs – I mix pork and beef together, cinnamon. Chopped majool dates, pepper, sea salt, Parmesan mushrooms, onion and garlic, bread crumbs, tomato sauce
Saute onion, garlic, mushrooms and spices cool and add to meat mixture. Form meatballs and put on baking sheet and cook at a fairly high temp so that the outside caramelizes.
Marinara sauce _ tomatoes (I like San Marzano’s or fresh} capers, honey, salt pepper, saffron, olive oil and butter, Parmesan cheese. Make your sauce with things you love to eat!
Heat up bread, heat up meatballs add slices of good quality mozzarella and enjoy.