Bio and Artist’s Statement:
My artistic identity began as a child, with my father who was a serious amateur photographer. Together we would walk the woods looking for subject matter and later watch those captured images emerge magically from the developer solution in the darkroom. We would discuss the merits of the photos, both with an eye to what it communicated as well as its technical proficiency. Often he would give me books on artists he enjoyed. In my early 20s I backpacked for 10 months in Europe and would periodically send back photo slides which he would critique. Those early experiences educated my eye, heart and mind.
While attending the University of Michigan I studied art history and archeology which gave me an appreciation of historical context and cultural references and how they affect artwork. A number of professors and artists were formative in my development, Rudolph Arnheim, Diane Kirkpatrick, Clifton Olds, and Grace Cole.
The medium of cold wax is an excellent vehicle for exploring a painting’s history. I start with line and drawing, and then put layer, after layer of paint, scraping to reveal previous paintings. This process allows for depth, memory and mystery to be explored. My work embraces the intuitive and subconscious and this method of painting has been a very satisfying method for that approach.
The themes of my work involve Nature, the seasons and concerns of contemporary society but filtered through my subconscious. I don’t begin with a message but as it arises and I explore it. For example, Kolyna I is strongly affected by the war in Ukraine. Spark, Smolder, Smoke, by climate change.
1. What are 1 - 3 books that have influenced your life?
Leonard Koren’s book, Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers- This book addresses the aesthetic valuing of aging, imperfectness, and the impermanence of all living things.
Sean Tucker’s The Meaning in The Making- I especially found the chapter on finding your voice to be helpful. This book is a great book for all creatives and helps to explain why we humans need to create.
Mrs. Dalloway- which embraces the inner voice and synchronicity in life--My work is a reflection of an internal dialogue with the subconscious and Virginia Woolf, through her stream of consciousness writing, explored that same dynamic.
2. What are you currently working on?
Currently I’ve been working with Miho Itoh, a wonderful Ikebana artist. We are envisioning an exhibit of nature and art, where collaboration and convergence are central to our intent. We share the dialogue which reflects the influences back and forth and together. Miho brings her intimate knowledge of the Japanese way of flowers, which resonates with the artwork I create—and vice versa. Her expressions of natural beauty and my paintings augment each other in color, mass and line and feeling.
3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?
For years I painted in a very realistic manner. A single work could take months to complete. And at some point I realized that obsession to detail and perfection took over the place of joy in the process. By changing my goal from slavish devotion to realism and listening instead to what was in my heart, I was giving more of myself to others and making myself happier, in the process.
My new goal became: “Don’t Illustrate—Illuminate”
4. What is your most unusual habit?
Staying up very late–I just don’t want to say goodbye to the day.
5. If you could have any painter, living or dead, paint your portrait who would it be and why?
A meaningful portrait of me would place me within the context of my family. Not to shamelessly promote my daughter, but I would choose Nicole Carrow to photograph my portrait. She specializes in family photos that capture emotions between people in a wonderfully unique way. With her behind the camera, I am sure she would capture that connection with family that is an essential part of me.
6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?
My studio is in the attic of our 100 year old home. I love the decks with access to the outside at tree-top level. But the downside of an attic space is that there’s very limited vertical wall space.
I’ve devised a method for storing and drying art which is simple. I use an adjustable clothes rack from IKEA (RIGGA) on wheels and padded pants hangers to hang/store my paintings. The hangers work great and no pressure marks!
7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?
I like to collect images of color combinations I find interesting and appealing both in magazines and online. They can be found in fashion, food, landscapes, even animals and birds etc. They serve as jumping off points for new paintings. I also like to visit exhibits of artists when traveling to new locales. Rereading the wabi sabi book or going on walks in nature also are inspirational.
8. Who/What influences your work?
Mark Rothko, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler are all significant influences, both in terms of the use of color and energetic linework (Joan Mitchell) to convey feeling.
9. Do you collect anything?
I collect tarot cards. It’s so interesting to see how different cultures and eras use the same general motifs with such different results. I have ones based on Renaissance imagery, Slavic and Scandinavian folklore, art nouveau, British woodlands, futuristic, etc. Some have a very mystical bent, and others are earthy and natural. And of course they are interesting to use.
10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t get caught up in perfection. Create lots of work to better understand what’s important to you, and to discover what is your personal language.
11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?
Classes on Zoom. More access, less complication, and you get to meet artists from around the world. Taking the cold wax class with Lisa Pressman was a life changing experience.
Also, at that time I moved my studio from the Fine Arts Building in Chicago to my home. While I loved being with other artists, not commuting allowed for more productive work time.
12. Share an inspiring image.
This photo of Antelope Canyon was taken at the moment that we threw sand into the air, revealing the sunlight beaming down through the canyon. The interaction of the environment with human action created an awareness of what was already there and was a revelation.
ELEMENTAL: HOT & COLD can be found ARTSY
James May Gallery
Dousman, WI 262-753-3130