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Interview with James Roper

May 12, 2010

Interview with James Roper
by Matt Mignanelli

James Roper creates unexpected works that appeal to our over stimulated sensibilities. The work has an overtly cinematic quality to it and a wonderful flair for the dramatic, seeming to fit right in during these rapidly changing times. Also engaging is the undeniable references to a higher power, and a vocabulary influenced by Baroque masters.

While viewing his newest works, which he will present starting May 18th at Rojo artspace Barcelona, one becomes enthralled with the flatness of surface and visual depth that he is able to attain. The exhibition fittingly titled “Paroxysm” aims to highlight “the intermediate state as control gives way to chaotic abandon”. I had a chance to speak with the artist based in Manchester, UK as he prepares to depart for Barcelona.

Could you tell us a little about your background: age, education, current location.

28 years old. At Crosstown Infants School I first used acrylic paints, we were told not to get it on our clothes because it would NEVER COME OFF!! For some reason that scared me. Nowadays most of my clothes have acrylic paint on them. I then went to Norbury Booths Junior School, I won £5 for a coloured sand art competition, I drew a San Diego Chargers football team helmet (I prefer your football to our football), I still support them, I can’t remember why now, I probably just liked the cool lightening bolt. In Knutsford High School I got an A* in design, I made a H.R.Giger themed toothbrush, yes, it was as weird as it sounds. I came up with my Hypermass series at Manchester Metropolitan University, my tutor was a feminist so I started the Rapture series after I graduated. I now live in Manchester (UK), rent is a lot cheaper than down in London.

Take us through an average day with you.

Luckily my art is interesting because what you’re about to read really is not. Try not to fall asleep….Alarm goes off, but I sleep for another hour. Feed cat. Porridge. Check emails, trawl through blogs and image sharing sites for far longer than I should. I work from home so I go into the studio/garage/gym and start painting or turn my chair around and do some drawing on the table behind me. Lunch, check emails, nap. Work. Go for a walk. Make dinner. Eat dinner. Feed cat. Watch a DVD/Youtube/BBC iPlayer. Workout in gym/studio/garage or go to Kung fu training. Eat. Emails. Trawl Internet. Yawn. Bed.

Can you give us some background on your work and how you’ve arrived at what you’re visually exploring now.

In high school, when I learnt art wasn’t just about visuals but about exploration of ideas, I did everything from Pop art style painting (where I started the Anime style block colour painting I do now) to purely conceptual pieces about semantics and philosophy. Then in University where we were taught a lot about the ‘Expanded field of painting’ and a lot of people did conceptual work I decided to rebel by taking the seemingly ‘conventional’ route of just trying to paint visually engaging work. I tried to push things aesthetically and not conceptually which I found redundant. Especially because I was reading a lot about Buddhist philosophy at the time which was a lot more interesting than the lame attempts at art theory that were bandied around, it was all pretty shallow beyond it’s seemingly deep surface. I decided to invert this by using the symbolically profound images from Tibetan Buddhism, that ironically looked like cartoons, and collaged these images together. I then decided to use Anime in the same way, collaging together the most sculptural elements I could find from images I found on the Internet. Towards the end of this series of work I noticed my interest in Baroque art was very much linked with the exaggerated imagery found in Anime so started to directly reference this within the work which is where I am now. I still reference Buddhist philosophy in how I distort the Christian symbolism within the work.

Your work has really wonderful energy to it and such a sense of movement. What are your inspirations and what source materials do you reference?

The main reason for that movement is to make you eyes move around the canvas, it’s like a catapult swinging you round to another part that then flings your eyes to another. You get a lot of that in Anime, not just in the acion that is going on but how the viewers perspective is swung around the action (much imitated now in films like The Matrix). Also this movement is seen a lot in Baroque art where not only the figures but their garments seem full of life and energy. Haute Couture also uses garments as an extension of the body in a similar way.

The work has many religious references present, and you’ve mentioned in the past the cloud formations as “spiritual energy”. Can you tell us what role your own religion and beliefs have played in the work?

I always try and put ‘spiritual’ in commas because it is a very vague term, in fact I don’t like it very much because of that reason. I’m not a Buddhist but I do meditation and have read a lot about Buddhism specifically Zen philosophy. The irony is Zen is very grounded and as close to an objective philosophy as you can get, it’s very earthy and far from the vague New age spirituality that is present in Western culture. Zen isn’t really about ideas at all but what you experience directly, and what’s happening is this constant movement and energy. Though there are patterns amidst the chaos this ‘flow’ is actually meaningless, as humans with highly developed brains we attribute meaning onto things so we kind of numb our experience and constantly filter it. I have this idea that this constant bombardment of the senses we put ourselves through especially in modern society is an attempt to break through the filter and experience things more directly, just as we would if we dropped those mental filters. My work is trying to hyper-activate your visual senses so it is a reflexive sensory experience, I’d rather your brain didn’t kick in too early. That’s why I tread the line between abstraction and figurative painting, humans are evolutionary programed to find images in things that are seemingly abstract (like the form of a predator camouflaged by plant life), so hopefully your brain is in a kind of limbo state of ‘What am I looking at?’ when you view my work. I do this with my references to Christian iconography, such as the central ‘halo’ in Autosarcophagy, the ‘figure’ it is adorning has no head so it looses it’s meaning and simply becomes an abstract circle.

Could you speak a bit about your process for creating work?

After having collected hundreds of images found on the Internet I then cut out the parts I want to use and collage them together in Photoshop. The parts I choose are always quite sculptural in nature, I try to find parts of images that trigger something optically. It usually consists of an object or structure, whether it be a crashed car or a form of clothing that has an extreme structural density, a sense of exaggerated form which provokes an almost physical sensation (I explain this on my website as ‘peak shift’). Sometimes I have a rough idea of what I want to create but mostly I allow the image to grow of it’s own accord, moving things around till they seem dynamic, altering the form and colours of things as I go. I then paint the image using the composition as an approximate guide, adding and changing things where appropriate.

In what direction are you trying to push new work?

My mantra is ‘Not enough, not enough, not enough’, I probably wont stop till my work actually causes a viewers head to implode. I’ve gone through a period of referencing Baroque art, I’d like to expand that, maybe add some narrative in. At the moment (this is an exclusive, I only started thinking about this yesterday!) I’m thinking about creating abstract ‘characters’ similar to my new ‘Involuted’ paintings. I’m a big fan of Beat ’em ups, and I like all the different characters, costumes, weapons, special moves and environments you get. With most of my paintings I have a vague idea as to what elements I want to end up with and as I don’t like repeating myself too much hopefully having a kind of theme to each ‘character’ will give each piece a different aspect.

When you’re not painting, what are you passionate about?

Film. I love going to the cinema and I’ve always wanted to make films. I recently worked on a short that I co-wrote and did the production design for which was exciting to do. I’m currently working on getting another short made and I’m always working on ideas for scripts, I love coming up with characters and plot lines.

What does the rest of 2010 have in store for you?

A group show at Joshua Liner gallery (New York), a small solo show at LeBasse Projects (L.A.), a couple of group shows in the UK, and hopefully I’ll be a green belt at Kung Fu by Christmas.

“Paroxysm” opens at Rojo artspace Barcelona Tuesday May 18th and continues through Thursday June 17th. artspace Barcelona,
Carrer Girona 61 Local 02, Eixample. 08009 Barcelona. Spain.
+34 934 673 598 online:

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Matt Mignanelli is a painter based in New York City and contributor for The Ballast.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2010 1:52 pm

    Fascinating interview! Amazing how James creates a collage in photoshop to use as a reference for his painting. I love his art work!

  2. humbleprick permalink
    September 1, 2012 8:19 pm

    Very cool.

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