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Featured Interview: James Roper

Art Asylum: James, tell us about yourself, where do you live, your lifestyle/background?

James Roper: I live in Manchester, England. I’ve lived a very normal boring life, I guess my work is like it is to counter act that.

Art Asylum: Give us a little history on your art background? What was it about art that gained your interest?

James Roper: I’ve always been quite introverted and never really socialized very much instead choosing to loose myself in my artwork. I can spend long periods of time alone without it bothering me so I find it easy to concentrate solely on my work without distraction. I use art as a form of escapism as well as expression and communication and in doing so I think you learn a lot about yourself and your relationship with the world around you. It’s interesting how you can simultaneously ground yourself in reality and get lost in mental fabrication.

Art Asylum: Were you an artistic child? Are your parents artistically inclined?

James Roper: Yes, I’ve always loved to draw. I used to copy images out of comic books and I remember taping cartoons off the TV which I’d pause and copy the still images, I guess that must have been the initial inspiration for my recent ‘Hypermass’ series in which I collaged together imagery from anime. I probably inherited my artistic ability from my mum who is creative and her dad who was a good draftsman and did carpentry.

Art Asylum: How did you come up with your specific style of painting?

James Roper: I’ve been heavily influenced by Japanese animation; I love how it reduces form and shading to its bare essentials. I’m expanding a little now with more painterly techniques as I feel I want to reference the act of painting more but it’s still much reigned in and controlled.

Art Asylum: Your paintings are very vibrant and alive bringing a 2d style to be viewed as almost 3d, what is your approach to color?

James Roper: I’ve had a lot of praise for my use of colour but to be honest I used to use it very cynically to simply catch the viewer’s attention but I don’t think it was particularly refined in any way. It’s much harder to restrict the palette as I try and do now than to just go overboard. I think it’s also been a distraction from the forms within the work which I find more important, my recent black and white drawings are somewhat of a reaction to this where you have no choice but to concentrate on the forms.

Art Asylum: If you had to describe your work in one word what would it be?

James Roper: Neurogenic

Art Asylum: How do you measure the success in your work?

James Roper: There’s two ways, one is my own judgment which can vary from day to day, from thinking it’s terrible to thinking it’s the best painting I’ve ever done to the usual complete jaded feeling that compels me to just get on with the next piece. The other is the viewers reaction. I’ve found that there’s no bigger insult than someone saying a piece of work is ‘Nice’, I either want them to be critical and pull it apart or be deeply overawed and emotionally affected, anything in between and I’ve failed. In other words I want people to react, either intellectually or emotionally. The art I love gets to me deep in the gut like a physical reaction and that’s what I strive for in my own work.

Art Asylum: What is your philosophy as an artist?

James Roper: Self criticism has always been key to my progression. If I feel myself settling into a certain way of working I’ll try and shake things up by changing direction but still keeping certain aspects I feel have worked. As an artist I think it’s vital that you have something unique to say, it should always be the driving force behind everything you do.

Art Asylum: How would you describe your art for somebody who is not familiar with your work?

James Roper: Sex, religion, science, vomit, chaos.

Art Asylum: How long have you been doing what you do? Is this your full time job?

James Roper: Once I left university I didn’t stop making art and luckily got a big commission so it was financially viable to keep going. I do have a part time job invigilating in a gallery and as I work at home most of the time it also serves as an opportunity for some social interaction.

Art Asylum: What motivates / inspires you to make art and stay focused while working in the studio?

James Roper: It depends how I think a painting is going. If it’s going well I don’t need any motivation it just naturally arises out of the work itself, but if it’s going badly it’s very hard to work through that till its back on track and I can get very frustrated. I also dread having to work a normal 9 to 5 job so when I start complaining I remind myself of that and I soon snap out of it. I sometimes listen to different types of music to explore certain states of mind which can be anything from classical to heavy metal.

Art Asylum: Some artists like yourself are very methodical, where as others are not. Do you ever allow a painting to “Create” itself? Or do you control the painting / drawing to the very last brush stroke or line?

James Roper: The most creative part is in building the composition like a collage in Photoshop, once that’s done I pretty much stick to that unless I feel anything needs changing or I’ve put anything into the image that I know I will adapt or expand upon whilst painting. I start the painting by drawing out the image and then roughly painting in everything to get an idea of the tonal levels and color variations. I will then use a color code relating to acrylics I’ve already mixed for previous paintings to get the colors I need or close enough that I can subtly change or add to a palette (paint pot lids) for use in the more painterly areas. If I achieve certain unexpected effects by mistake that I like I’ll leave them in but I tend to clean up any mistakes.

Art Asylum: How long does it take you to produce a piece?

James Roper: A painting will usually take anything between 70 to 140 hours to actually paint and roughly 2 or 3 days to make the composition. That doesn’t include the time I spend searching for images to use in the collaging process which I tend to search for on the Internet every other day. Occasionally I’ll take my own photo’s especially to get specific forms of drapery.

Art Asylum: What do you find to be the most difficult thing about being an artist?

James Roper: Doubt in my ability. No matter how much praise I get I often think my work is middle of the road, pretentious nonsense and I constantly battle against that. In a way I do it on purpose so I don’t become complacent. I’m constantly pushing myself in order to achieve what I want so I never feel settled in the way I work and therefore don’t particularly enjoy painting as much as I would if it were just a past time I did without any regards to an audience. Art is only worth something when it really connects with other people, if you just produce work you enjoy making you shouldn’t expect that other people will get the same thing from it that you did whilst making it.

Art Asylum: You work in a variety of mediums, i.e. painting, sculpture, film. How did you educate yourself to do so many creative things as an artist?

James Roper: Whatever it is I want to try I just do it and learn from my mistakes. I think any artist should be able to apply their vision into any medium and shouldn’t just restrict themselves within one discipline. Although you have to be careful not to spread yourself too thinly, if you want to tackle another medium you should do so whole heatedly.

Art Asylum: Do you see your art work drastically changing in the future?

James Roper: I hope so. One of the reasons I keep painting is because I usually think my last piece hasn’t quite worked so I tend to adjust how I work to create the possibility that the next piece will. I don’t think my work is even close to what I’m trying to express so I’m constantly questioning what best would serve the communication of those ideas or feelings.

Art Asylum: What is your life long goal for your artistic career?

James Roper: I don’t like to make specific goals as things always come along unexpectedly and knock you off course. I hope I will be able to explore as many mediums as I can, I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface with sculpture. I’ve always wanted to make a feature film as they are multi-faceted and I feel they are the most affective medium for really connecting with an audience. My ultimate dream though would be to work on a virtual reality simulation as I’ve always wanted the viewer to have complete immersion within the work. It would allow me to include elements that are in my paintings but don’t quite come across viscerally enough like the architectural elements, the relation of the body within a space, movement and touch, basically stimulation of all the senses. I’m sure I could try and do this within the context of an installation but it would be hard to pull off.

Art Asylum: Has any one artist in particular influenced your style or overall creative process?

James Roper: I’ve been influenced by so many artists it’s hard to say, but the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini stands out as being the most important. He was essentially an installation artist creating environments in which to experience his work rather than just passively view it. I’ve tried to basically condense this experiential 3D environment onto a 2D plain and the shear physicality within his work has been a major influence stylistically.

Art Asylum: Can you tell me the concept behind the Rapture, “Ecstasy” series?

James Roper: It was inspired by my favorite piece of art ‘The Ecstasy of St.Teresa’ by Bernini and how her spiritual ecstasy is often compared to sexual orgasm. I’m always interested in taking two opposites and pulling them together and in doing so you can find a commonality between them. In this case religion and sex which are essentially working with very basic human instinct. Both are brought about through specific bodily action (sex: foreplay, religion: ritual) and mental processes (sex: fantasy, religion: fantasy). I’ve heard it said you become ‘enlightened’ for a split second at the height of orgasm so if you run with this (somewhat skewed) logic the explorers of this ‘spiritual state’ must be porn stars. In many religions there is the idea that the material body is a husk for the spiritual self so in this series the porn stars shed their apparently impure skin and transmute into a pure abstract release of energy.

Art Asylum: And with your series of paintings, how do you go about naming a particular piece, are the paintings based around a concept or the concept based on the paintings? Which originates first?

James Roper: A lot of the time the work will just grow of its own accord inspired by a basic idea I want to express. I have to be my own psychoanalyst as some of the meaning behind it I only work out why it’s there in retrospect, it seems to happen subconsciously. I put things into the work that I’m drawn to, and yes you could just say it’s in there because I just like it, but if you delve deeper into the psychology of why you like something it opens up much more interesting stuff to work with. I then use that information to inform future work. I like using convoluted terminology in my titles because they work in condensing a lot of ideas into one word or a combination of words. I enjoy the richness of language, a title like ‘Glossolalia’ which means to ‘speak in tongues’ cites the religious references in the work as well as the seemingly nonsensical release of energy the painting depicts and fittingly I like how you have to move your tongue a lot to pronounce the three L’s, it’s almost onomatopoeic. I like the title to be slightly obscure and not too overtly descriptive so the viewer has space to think about the work on their own terms. I usually title the piece towards the end of its composition; sometimes I take one from a list of possible titles I’ve compiled if it feels appropriate.

Art Asylum: When you are not painting, what do you enjoy doing?

James Roper: Zazen (sitting meditation) and Internet pornography.

Art Asylum: What should we expect from you in the coming year? Any upcoming gallery shows or new projects for 2009?

James Roper: You’ll have to keep an eye on my blog ( for upcoming shows; there are a number of things in the pipe line. I’ve been working on a short film which is currently in post-production, which should be complete in the next couple of months.

Thanks – James Roper


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