Sunday, November 19, 2006

Art Space Talk: Karl James

I recently interviewed artist Karl James. Karl is a self-taught artist working from South Australia. He is a multi award winning artist and his work has been exhibited widely throughout South Australia.

Mr. James is interested in discovering 'truth' through painting. In a sense, his work is a constant search for truth and a reflection of the soul. Karl has taken many paths on his quest. These paths can be found in the many forms of artistic expression that he has embraced.

Mr. James has utilized charcoal, printing, etching, collage, painting, and illustrative narratives to explore his vision of truth. His work can be both brooding and vibrant. In a sense, he explores the nature of the human spirit in a visually expressive manner.

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "I won a prize for my art when I was 5yrs old. My headmistress saw something in my work and entered it. She still after all these years follows my work. I think I owe it all to her."

Q. How has creating art shaped you professionally and personally?

A. "Professionally it hasnt really, but personally it is really the very essence of who I am. I am an artist in my very soul."

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "My art is very cerebral, I am a studio painter and that is my haven. when I paint I dont think an awful lot about whats happening outside that sacred place, in fact thats where I go to get away from it.. I love the act of painting. Society is harsh and violent enough so if I can create some beauty it can only be for the good."

Q. What are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?

A. "A great deal of my art is about or a reference to other art, so my influeces lay there. Australian artists Brett Whiteley, Garry Shead, and of course Vincent, Braque ( It was a small book hidden away in a school library on Braque that stole my soul and really sent me on my quest as and artist - I stole the book) I love Rembrant, Carrivaggio and some of the new artists , Mark Ryden, Ray Caesar, Joe Sorren."

Q. Tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?

A. "I am a steelworker, Father, husband , artist. I think most importantly was the nurturing of art in a young boy by his teacher and peers ( other kids would get me to draw stuff for them in school) If I hadnt got those kind words early would it have made a difference I wonder. I firmly believe one should nurture the gift when it is recognised so as not to lose it."

Q. How long have you been a working artist?

A. "I sold my first painting at the age of 17 . I think that was an important milestone for me and I suppose the start of serious painting."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "Obviously a stunningly keen eye and good taste, (LOL) A love of colour and harmony."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. "sunflowers (image above) This is one of my newest works in the Vincent series. As a young painter I had - as most - gone through the whole being in love with the impressionists and then Van Gogh. But over time one grows and becomes more enthused by other artists and what is going on around them. And besides, the impressionists and to even more extent VanGogh have become over exposed to the point of almost becoming kitch.

Recently however a colleague of mine put together some narrated letters of vincents (as read by kevin Bacon) to some music so he could have something different to listen to in his studio. I got a copy. Hearing those intelligently and beautifully written letters prompted me to revisit vincents work and I suddenly found, after all these years, a new appreciation.

I decided to use some of his work as a base and add relevent text from the letters to some paintings. I did these paintings in my own style, loosely painting and trying not to make them overtly Vincent. The works including Sunflowers are oil on board."

Q. What is your artistic process?

A. "I rarely do any prep drawings prefering to work straight on the board or canvas. I do however draw up the piece first in charcoal. just to get some bones down and figure out some basic composition. Then I "distress" or destroy the backround with a multitude of colour in acrylic, I cant bare the white canvas stage. this can bare some great accidents that can change the course of the painting. Then comes the hard slog, the practical decisions, the dialogue between myself and the emerging work. I try to make the work "look " painted, I leave mistakes, It shows a history of the work. The actual act of painting is difficult to describe as it is so intuitive now. Sometimes it feels as though I am just an instrument for some other force and just obediently obey, - thats the best and the work feels effortless. sometimes it is a struggle, is a difficult pleaure."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I love to try all sorts of mediums and dont restrict my self. I often use many in the same piece of artwork." .

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how has it helped your art career?

A. "I dont have a degree but as a young man desperately wanted to go to art school. There are none where I live and my father wanted me to have a trade. So thats what I did. I often wonder - what if...........

However I never stopped painting and trying to find my own way. Having said that, I feel un encummbered by art school thought on what is supposed to be or how I should paint or think. Art for me has become a lifelong journey of dicovery.

Q. Where can we see more of your art?

A. "I have a web site which is at "

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "I am not currently represented but am currently working on new works to show to prospective galleries. I have shown throughout South Australia though."

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?

A. "Most of my exhibitions have been in community regional galleries, usually as part of a group show. The nearest metropolitan centre is Adelaide which is 400km away. There are no commercial galleries where I live. I find the intimacy of Cafes should not be underestimated either. That environment gives the viewer more time to relax and enjoy a piece of artwork."

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "I'm Definitely very exited by the new "low brow" and pop surrealism, particularly the likes of Ray Caesar, Joe Sorren, Mark Ryden. This seems to be taking the world by storm "

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Devour art books, find out as much as you can about whats going on now and get a good knowledge af art history. - Know what you are talking about. Be true to yourself, you are unlikely to make a good living so make sure you create for yourself - if someone else likes it thats a bonus, if they buy it all the better. Treat your gift as a life long journey of discovery, you will never stop learning. Push your boundaries."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "I once had a series of works toured around the state by the country arts touring exhibitions program, They where etchings and pastelles of nude angels. - nothing overtly erotic. Anyway when I got the works back together with a list of various comments from wherever they had been I was shocked to find out that in one small town the headmaster of the school had refused to show them even to his senoir students and put forth a formal complaint to the program Another said he would never accept touring programs again, and another said - "if these are angels I dont want to go to heaven" WOW!

How did I deal with it, - I laughed, I thought it was scandalous and scandle is good for an artist. Then I did a collage about it and keep that in my studio as a reminder. Dont you hate super conservative philistines."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "My first commercial gallery show ( part of a group) I was so exited, my works looked great and I must say very strong against some of the others. I had travelled some distance for the openning. During the night I felt so alone - none of the city artists talked to me, the gallery directors snubbed me, it was awful. Then they sold a work for less than I had propossed and were very cold about the whole affrair. I was devistated. I havnt dealt with that gallery since and have just concentrated on new work and showing at the local universitys gallery."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "I have to, simple as that. Creating art is the very essence of me, its my calling and personal jouney, its how my soul learns. Pity I cant make a living out of it as well."

Q. Can we find your art on MYARTSPACE.COM?

A. "kjarts"

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I live in Whyala, rural South Australia, a steelworking town, a very blue collar town. Art is of little consiquence here but there is a small band of tight knit artists. We create together, share our work and thoughts. A few have shown overseas. There are no commercial galleries so we show where we can or travel to the city. One of our objectives is to bring contemporary art to those who dont know about art and to educate where we can. A few of us are steelworkers, some are teachers and students."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "Only in one piece (in my pics in myspace) called caroussel of fools - that is a comment on the current Debarckle in the middle east with strong references to what I think of US forgien policy. But as a rule I dont think art and politics happily mix."

Q. Does your cultural background play a part in your work?

A. "No, I dont really think so, maybe some might see something that I dont."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "I hope my work makes the viewer stop and look, It doesnt matter if you like it or not as long as it makes you stop. What a waste if an artwork doesnt provoke some responce. I must also say that the online art community is fantastic and very supportive. Art now belongs to the masses."

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with artist Karl James. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great interview Brian, a really good insight to Karls art practices and the persona behind it. Bravo!