Herman James is a pop-surreal painter making art that is often a scramble of the natural and the strange. His work has been characterized as “weird” and “insane” and much of it is definitely positioned outside the mainstream. The artist recalls with a laugh that his work has sometimes gotten him into trouble. For instance, he has been known to place human body parts in unnatural places on his figures, to the negative comment of some. James was born and raised in Portland, Oregon where he developed an abiding regard for nature. This love of nature often appears in his work as it does in the work of many pop-surrealists. While often spending significant time in New York he now lives and paints in a country setting outside of Boston where he is surrounded by oak trees. James was making weird art well before there was much of a pop-surreal-focused gallery system in place. While in Portland, he was a member of a vibrant non-traditional (underground) scene, and had many shows in guerilla spaces and then eventually in more traditional market-based galleries. Several of the more adventurous west coast art critics understood what he was trying to do and wrote about him in the arts press from Oakland to Vancouver. One described his work as “relentlessly inventive.” James believes that the often “over-the-top” but at the same time deeply intuitive creative art-making of the pop-surreal or underground movement is providing an important alternative to the more traditional modern scene found in the influential galleries across the world. It is art that owes no allegiance to the schools and aesthetic positions of the mainstream. He believes that the underground pop-surreal outsider-art movement has heart and spirit, motivating principles that have been lost by the more traditional modern art scene. James warns that this parallel underground art world is a power unto itself, and perhaps unbeknownst to itself, may be characterized as standing as the “barbarians at the gates.” Indeed, the values of the underground art movement are beginning to strongly infiltrate the mainstream as more artists and art dealers begin to push on the boundaries of traditional art making and who may show within that sphere.
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