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James Collins

29.05.15 --- 19.06.15


Q&A with James Collins

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Oil on linen





White Summit

Oil on linen






Oil on linen







James Collins with Chris Shaw

CS: In a previous conversation we had, you said that you had been researching algorithms. You mentioned that they are having a profound effect on our lives and that you are currently looking at the traits that algorithms and painting share. What exactly is an algorithm and how does it relate to the paintings you are producing?


JC: An example of an algorithm is speed cameras. They were brought in to do the job of a human but without the chance of getting it wrong really. Humans can have their subjectivity influenced to persuade and change decisions, but algorithms don't encounter these influences.


Algorithms relate to my painting practice because I use systems which are created through acknowledging and contriving accredited terms in painting. I form systems through revising recurring continuities in painting conversations that are institutionally embraced in some way. Through the course of my BA at Wimbledon I've had many discussions where the crux of the conversation has been about meeting points in painting so that everyone in the crit has an influence (as painters mainly). This often leads to discussing the formal qualities in painting more often than not; and drips are often talked about in a highly respected way in institutions. I see their formal qualities to have a consistency which is both accident-looking, mysterious and informative. In my paintings they are mainly formulaic and not mysterious to me.


Algorithms only take my paintings so far. My humanist influence doesn't really allow for a painting system to fully play out as it begins. My intuitive reasoning is very important to the paintings. I tend to reason with intuition more than anything else. I allow doubt or excitement to infect or get in the way of the systems I use, this exchange forms other systems that are closer to what I want to make and the cycle goes on this way continuously.


CS: In a painting like "Brandy" there are the drips you talk of, and there are areas where you seem to have scraped the paint off the canvas. Did the scrapes begin as a mistake which then became rationalised as part of the systems you are talking about?


JC: The scraped mark happened originally when I wanted to flatten or remove something in a painting. I've understood with my paintings that marks can't be really removed once they're put down (because of the body of raw unpainted space). Trying to remove a mark tends to become a different kind of mark-making essentially for me, especially when the unpainted space usually dominates the surface.


CS: So the doubt you talk about, that 'humanist influence' as you put it, is when you feel like a system has become too predictable and not very exciting to you anymore forcing some sort of expansion into other territories to do with paint?


JC: It's less to do with my excitement about the breadth (or lack of) of my systems, because I do like to use predictable and finite vocabulary in my paintings. I think it's more of a measure of my attitude and awareness to my decisions that I have made in a painting rather than my boredom. If some marks are painted in a way which doesn't fulfil my intention then there is a void in the clarity somewhere, which translates into that part of the painting being negotiable to change much easier than something which has captured my intention(s).


CS: There's something elemental about these systems that feature in your work, as if you're stripping back and starting again from ground zero knowing people have scraped and dripped paint before but with the confidence to realise that it has never been done by you before.


JC: Yeah I agree with that - I don't use any methods or motifs in painting which are complicated to produce  or replicate, although it might look easier than it actually was to make, the difficulty lies in deciding how to effectively use painted space. In this sense I am influenced by people like Jonathan Lasker. In Lasker's paintings everything that he paints looks makeable on a very superficial level, although this analogy never really enters into my perception of his work, I can see how people may have that view. His process is much more complex and authentic than the sources of his visual vocabulary are (which from the get-go he understands as not being totally his own). The systems that he creates essentially become more genuine and interesting than the motifs that occupy them.


CS: How do you generally begin work on a painting?


JC: My ideas are often half formed visually or sometimes visually not formed at all until I begin to paint. I sometimes make sketches away from the studio but I usually start with an idea which stems or derails from the last painting in some way. In one painting for example, I might make a mistake and overlap some drips which weren't intended to be painted that way. In the next painting I could contrive this happening. Ironically the first move in painting usually ends up being the most superfluous part of the painting once the painting is finished.


I aim to be in a lost state when painting as I don't like to have bias over what comes next, I usually end up listening to the painting more than anything that I can justify and rationalise, which is probably what moves my paintings on in different ways because I try to distance my bias as much as is possible.


CS: Can you talk a little bit about your materials?


I premix a lot of my paints before I paint. It's a way of softening the translation between a thought to a physical idea. It also provides me with a set of rules to a degree. At the minute I am painting on linen. I'm interested in the reception that raw linen achieves through it being thoroughly fetishized and it also allows for my paintings to have a greater link to drawing.


CS: What's your take on Zombie Formalism?


JC: I'm indifferent about it. I can see why a lot of people like and don't like it. Young kids making work which is selling for high prices, generally speaking, causes attention from all sides. It's very easy to disapprove of someone who hasn't had a solid amount of time making work - and it's even easier for critics to see this and use it against them.


There are artists that transcend the wrongly labelled lazy and dumbed-down nature of Zombie Formalism. Artists like David Ostrowski for example have a  similar look to Kenneth Alme's paintings but Kenneth Alme's paintings don't have the same visual and material scrutiny that Ostrowski's paintings have. With Ostrowski he is the main part of his work, his character is responsible for how his paintings look, they are intense, intricate and in parts self-conscious. So, superficially they all look easily made, but some artists are unfairly labelled.


CS: How do you come up with titles for works?


JC: I don't really have a prerequisite for titles. I like to name some after people if the painting feels like it would be called this if it were a person. Paintings can sometimes build up a kind of identity or character, I like to give that identity an actual name which is either fitting or funny.


CS: Who are your major influences?


JC: I'm influenced by the work of Michael Krebber, Jonathan Lasker, Christopher Wool, Morris Louis, Caragh Thuring and Henning Strassburger, to name a few! Christopher Wool has been a big influence on my practice. I take a lot from the series of paintings that are formed from re-using his older works, printed out on canvas then painted over again. Using his work as a reference point for newer works is something that has influenced my practice.


CS: How do you absorb their good influence without becoming overshadowed?


JC: Being influenced by other artists is something that I don't have much of a stance on, but it's not unnecessary to think about these issues either. Being a painter is inevitably going to draw parallels with other painters across the history of painting. It has something to do with my position as a painter - through not making works as a defence of an already established theoretical standpoint, my paintings are often allowed to govern themselves without too much overarching influence. Allowing a painting to 'make itself' can lead to some paintings being difficult to understand but I feel like the idea and the painting can never work it out between themselves. It's always one dragging the other along.


CS: No one wants to be told that a recently completed painting is "very Guston-like", although I can see it happens a lot at the moment. Is it a goal for you to find some painterly territory that hasn't been overly occupied?


JC: I'd take 'very Guston-like' any day!! I'm unconvinced that social media is the right place to comment on works that haven't been seen in person in that sense. I send photos of paintings to friends whilst I'm mid-way through painting them for a knee-jerk reaction and for a reaction that is based on the gist of the image. Mobile pictures can give me a feeling for what is missing, weirdly. Finding painterly territory that I could put a claim on would be a nice thing obviously but at the minute everything that I'm doing with my paintings is from actively using much of what went before.


CS: What is the best book about painting you know?


JC: I'm working my way through the book called 'The Painting Factory - Abstraction After Warhol' at the minute. From the bits that I've read so far I am going to have to say that it's a really articulate description of abstraction and how it has developed since Warhol. Although I can't tell you how good the whole book is yet I'm confident it will be a cracker.


CS: You've just completed your BA in painting at Wimbledon College of Art. How did you find that experience?


JC: It was a very good experience in all. From going into the course just wanting to make art I've gradually discovered the roots of my interests within painting over the three years. It's not something that I ever felt was happening but over time I've made enough paintings to see it!


CS: What's next for you James?


JC: I'm starting a Masters in painting at the Royal College of Art in September so I have that to look forward to. I'll need a good month of winding down before painting again!