Welcome back to Carpazine Herman James! Give the readers some background information about yourself?
Carpazine - When did you decide to become an artist?
In a very real way I was sort of created as an artist in terms of being guided in that direction. There was none of that, "You're gonna have to find a job that supports you in the real world, son, and art isn't it!" Don't get me wrong. I wasn't pushed. I wanted to BE an artist from very early on. It helped that I got a lot of attention for the pictures I "colored" or drew during art sessions in grade school. However, I had my bio-chemistry lab in the basement at home. Like any kid I really liked growing molds. Plus my dad bought me glassware. Thinking back, I collected glassware as art, really. But if I expressed a desire to be anything other than an artist my mom would say, "But isn't art your first love?"
I guess you'd say I was precocious. I drew every day. My mom framed my drawings. And if another kid was said to be really good at drawing or painting I'd have to go see for myself. So, I was competitive in that way, but honestly never jealous. Just curious and wanting to know who else was with me. Who else worked at it as I did, even at a young age. I knew a kid, who became a good friend, who used to take a quart of Coca Cola up to his room at night and in a caffeine high would draw into the wee-hours. That's what I mean.
Carpazine - Did you go to art school? if so, where?
When I was 12-13 my parents sent me to private lessons in the studio of Colista Dowling. This was a big deal. To go study with her you had to be good at it already. I seem to remember my mom actually applying with a portfolio of my drawings and paintings. Dowling was a well known children's book illustrator back in the 1920’s and 30’s. She only took a couple students at a time. When I met her she was elderly but still had a steady, strong hand, and was painting in watercolor and oil. This is where I really learned how to paint in oil.
Later, I attended Portland State University earning a bachelor of fine arts with a focus on painting. But, I kind of floated through. After all, my first one person show, comprised of 60 works, was on the wall at an important art center in Portland the day of my first Basic Design class (that's what was eventually developed into what we think of as "foundation" courses, or some such, now).
The prof heading up the course did a roll call and when he came to my name he looked up and said something to the effect, "Oh. You have a show up at the Albina Art Center? Isn't that you?" He was OK with it. I didn't suffer from it at any rate, and I was attentive enough in a very elementary course, color wheels and whatnot. Geez. But I suppose you may understand that my heart and mind wasn't into it. Later, I fell in with a small clique of painters who were experimenting with the new – acrylic medium. My time there became much more interesting. At that time we were the wild crew. We poured medium and pigments and embedded stuff into the medium on our canvases. Most of my work from that time doesn't exist anymore though, because, well, let's just say they have improved the formulae of acrylic mediums in the ensuing years.
Ultimately. I went to oil full on, anyway.
Carpazine - How long have you been painting,drawing,etc?
All my life.
Carpazine - How much of yourself and your personal experiences are in your work?
I am one of those artists that pretty much enjoys the life of the mind. To me, my mind is a place and therefore my focus and inspiration is mainly from within. That's the foundational forum of my studio you might say. It's not that surroundings and whatever don't touch me, quite the opposite really, and elements of life and nature are definitely included in what I put out. I grew up in the Northwest, sort of after all. But I only use place and things as incidentals, as personal effects utilized as background in the life of any picture. Though, nonetheless, I admit to a certain inner romance with nature. Though, "Inner" is the operative word here.
At the same time, in terms of personal experience, as internalized psychic things per se, like maybe angst or anger or some sort of inner turmoil, I have never purposely thought to inject elements of any of that into my work. I've never been into imparting lessons for life, or illustrations of emotion for effect, or as a rendering of anything with an intention to let the world see my bleeding heart. If people seem to see something, or seem to perceive something as deeply felt coming from me in my work, something that speaks to them at an emotional level I wouldn't say that I am necessarily aware of it's source. However, I will always acknowledge their experience of my work as right if only for themselves. I'll never deny folks the right to get anything they might do out of a picture of mine.
I may sound vapid or dull, but to me, and for my parents and folks, the literate life was the thing. That was real. There was very certainly emotion there. Yes. Authors, especially fiction writers, as a breed really, seek to embed emotional content, almost as a tool of their palettes. But my conscious tapping into some deep held positions of the heart have never been anything I really wanted to do. These have never been part of my coloration. My thoughts turn to more structural things.
I may sound like I'm all over the map here. But an internalized literate world is broad. It has many corners and places from which to depart.
Carpazine - What do you find most challenging about being an artist ?
The most challenging thing about being an artist is two fold for me.
Finding creative space can be, and to my mind, is nearly always hard. I mean both a physical space in which to work and also a place in one's life flows, such as juggling work and family for instance, finding space with all one has to do to keep the body and other bodies as well whole and happily fed is a task. For me it was about finding work that allowed me to make – my work.
This is the usual stuff. Every artist experiences this.
Secondly, but perhaps more important to the endeavor, is allowing one's self to actually TAKE the time and space necessary. And also, to have for oneself the personal permission, hard to achieve, to actually get in there to create. I mean allowing yourself to get at it. Allowing oneself to find and develop a position of any kind, from which pictures might flow. It isn't so easy. There are so many voices internal and external that can discourage and stymie creative action. The hardest thing, in the face of all, is to find a pathway that satisfies. Perhaps a place for growth in whatever that may mean to an individual artist.
Somehow, the story of the close, close relationship between Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns comes to mind here. Both had to deal with the vagaries of the first part of this, surely. And they dealt absolutely with the second. The task of finding a path forward. Important to this, before they met, was each ones' personal quest to find how he might proceed as an artist. How to FIND their work.
It is said that their love for one another offered each, one to the other, a sort of psychic steadying post. A hand to reach out to, a place of safe haven. However, I think, too, that their individual determinations, pre-breakthrough, as it were, as to what it is to be an artist and especially what to DO as artists in terms of creative project and achieving a personal aesthetic position, set them up ready to go. Both things were needed you see. Support and encouragement, and perhaps constructive criticism as well. I understand there was a lot of that with them. Both things are hard to find and to have and make sense of, and both essential to the project.
This rumination may sound overwrought to some. It is certainly incomplete. It's after all coming from an artist committed to the Pop-surreal, a position often thought of as "thin." Believe me there are plenty of voices and a whole critical fora that has their noses in the air when it comes to underground art. Maybe that's a discussion for another time. I'd love to see some serious critical work done within the underground literate space between the arts of the so-called mainstream and the arts of the underground. I see many places for negative, as well as some, positive comparison.
Carpazine - What medium do you prefer to work in and how would you describe your artistic style?
I prefer paint, of all types. And I paint representational images of a surreal nature.
Carpazine - What art or artists inspire you ?
From a young age to now, you could say that nearly every artist of every time and era was a hero of mine.
Right now though, I really GO for the pop oriented surrealists and also, the darker artists especially those working sort of organically from within their own psychic spaces, if indeed that is the case. Maybe all artists do this, but there is something particularly searching about a couple of the dark artists I name here below.
In the first category, and my list here could be quite long, and I know I'll miss many, I could blather on about them all. And for some I may not hit a satisfactory, clearly stated notion of why I feel the way I do about their work. So I'll just make mention of them in a few words, or even less, and leave it to you to find them for yourselves:
I believe that Gregory Hergert is quite literally a genius of the Low-brow. In the realm of retro-low-brow land sits Glenn Barr. Chris Leib, hey he takes me to the moon with his astro-monkeys. The Swiss artist of Rococo space invasion Camille Medardus Hagner. The Thai artist I only know from his Instagram moniker as Art of Smith. I'd visit his wild world anytime, and do so often online. JJ Cromer sends me. Ryan Heshka too. Sri Whipple, Sri Whipple. Gina Altadonna taught me some things. Heiko Mueller inhabits the ancient Wald in which my own German forbears roamed.
In between the above and the below is Martin Wittfooth, yes, and then Brad Woodfin. And Mariajose Gallardo!
Then, in the dark space of oil paint and smear and creaking echo one may find Brad Gray also known as Drabnail. Sergio Di Lorio creeps there, also. Chris Mars, too. The artist known as Dos Diablos brings up and gives life to his devil minions. And David Gough resides in the British gloom.
Gawd! I could go on and on! I'm an art drunkard! You see?! I have to see!
Carpazine - What are you currently working on?
I've been reading Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory. Given what I've said, the book sounds right up my alley. Right?
This summer I've been in the upper and outer regions of Down-East Maine. Almost mid-Atlantic sits Deer Isle specifically. There's something about the place. Deep Hunter's Green forest, cold waters, islets, and memory for me of my time as a child on the Pacific coast. I spent a lot of time there in a time when it was less developed. Down-East Maine is like that still in some places. If this all sounds like a contradiction, and I do see it, that I would be inspired by a place in the world as opposed to inside my head exclusively, perhaps you'll see that this all is actually IN my head, my memory, my consciousness. And maybe for an artist like me this is what places out in the world are sort of good for? They stimulate memory and may stimulate art making, as well. It's all mine to do with what I will, or not based on my internal impetuses.
Specifically, I'm working on a number of things both in actuality and in my head and maybe heart too. I see a memorial on a raised bit of earth looking out to sea. I think of the Maine Fishermen's Wives Society, though I'll add, there are plenty of women fisher folk now. But the comparison still works, somehow? One thing I know, I've been visiting the art supply stores way too much. Ha! Spending like a drunken wild guy! With this new stimulus egging me forward, I'm in the art stores, at Blick, spending! I'm like the kid with the new crayon box at the beginning of the school year. Ending dreaming of my art, Ms. Carrot, my second grade teacher might put in the window outside in the hall next to the classroom door. In my case I was one of those kids, back in the day, lucky enough to have and stick his nose into, one of those hard to get mega boxes of 120 colors! Hey cornflower blue! Indian red. The earthen smell of wax. For me to this day, like the smell of oil paint, it sends me into places of imagination. Heh! I still, though furtively, open crayon boxes up in stores. You could probably hear my whiffing in aisle 10.
Watch my space for more specifics about my current projects!
Carpazine - What role does the artist have in society?
Talking only about visual art here:
I'm not interested in this question, really. I used to imagine that the Romantic poets, for instance, I used to hang with at the back of some high school class, Wordsworth, Keats, later Tennyson could somehow have influenced society. Maybe they did. But I think not much. Maybe Whitman here in the states may have. I thought the Pre-Raphaelites, or another such pictorial moment or movement could have acted to influence their societies. But I realize now that most art is reactive, or escapist, and these are not particularly good places from which to operate as agents of change. However mostly, if ever any of these I mention, or anyone else was thought by society to have played a role in their societies ongoing formation or progression or evolution I've since left aside that notion for lack of hard evidence.
It seems to me that FINE art, especially, is generally exclusive rather than inclusive, and Underground art is perhaps rather more inclusive in terms of who may approach and even own art. To my mind, the first position will get nowhere in terms of influence exactly because of its exclusivity. This has to do with both intellectual exclusivity and market price. The latter position is after all the ONLY way an art movement, or any movement of any kind, or a single artist, may ever exert any sort of influence. Being non-exclusive in the above terms, and especially in its approachability in terms of the price of owning original art, would be an important aspect of any force's ability to exert influence because I believe that ability comes largely from inability to proliferate. Perhaps the calendar art business of the 19th and early 20th centuries had more influence in this country as art because it was popular art. In that sense Maxfield Parrish's work might have been a force. And hey, I think he was one of us?
TO ME THIS SHOULD BE A CONVERSATION WITHIN A NEW CRITICAL FORUM BASED IN POP-SURREALISM OR FROM THE UNDERGROUND OR THE NEW CONTEMPORARY, IF YOU WILL. (To an extent this is being done in the pages of the pop-surreal and underground trade mags like Hi Fructose and Juxtapoz and perhaps Carpazine?) THE CONVERSATION SHOULD BE STRONG AND I THINK HYPER CRITICAL. ONE PLACE OF DEPARTURE IT SEEMS TO ME WOULD BE THE SEEMING GROWING SEPARATION BETWEEN WHAT WE THINK OF AS MAINSTREAM ART AND THE UNDERGROUND. THE FIRST CAN BE AWFULLY ELITIST. THE OTHER ART CAN BE EASILY APPROACHED. I THINK FROM THIS STANDPOINT AN ARTIST OR AN ARTS MOVEMENT MIGHT ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO EFFECT CHANGE, OR…? GUARDING OF COURSE AGAINST FORMING A NEW ELITISM. More thought is needed, for points of departure.
Carpazine - Is there a town or place in the world you consider inspiring?
So many. But lately, Stonington, Deer Isle, Maine. Beautiful. A working fishing village with a past. I really like the Stone Cutter's Kitchen in town. A working person's restaurant and its name a reference to the town's past as a shipping point for the granite mined all around there back in the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries. We think of Maine as a lobster fishery. Cod and Haddock. And it is, but in times past the dominant industry throughout coastal Maine was stone quarrying. The stone buildings we see in Philly, and D.C. and New York and Bostonthe stone is all from there.
Stonington, it's name, has intimations of landscape and memory.
Carpazine - Can you give the readers your Website and Facebook addresses so they can check you out?
I would send them to Instagram at the present time. @hermanjamesart
Carpazine - Anything you’d like to add?
I've blathered enough.
Copyright Carpazine Underground Art Magazine. All rights reserved.