AS PART OF THE EM18 GRADUATE PROJECT, WHERE RECENT GRADUATES ARE OFFERED A RESIDENCY IN OUR PROJECT SPACE FOR THE MONTH, WE’RE INTERVIEWING THE ARTISTS ABOUT THEIR PRACTICE AND THEIR VIEWS ON ART AS A WHOLE. OUR SIXTH INTERVIEW IS WITH JAMES HANDLEY.
For those who don’t know who you are, can you tell us a little about yourself, and your practice as an artist?
I’m James Handley, I am 24 and graduated from Nottingham Trent University this year. I’m often drawn to the negation of social interactions and of artistic expressions. I see my work as an enquiry into the unexamined life, everyday life being something I see as a heavily abstract social organism. The method is; Deconstruct, Reconstruct.
Having come out of university, have you noticed any differences between working as a student artist, and creating your work for a wider, public market?
Art in the public market is very aesthetic, you need something to draw people in. As a student some people, including me, thought this took away from the message of the artwork. I still do to an extent, but it’s naïve to think that people will only want to see ideas in work, that’s high fine-art and is more often pretentious. As a student you look at everything to make sense of what you’re making, e.g; only making work for yourself. The world is your oyster in that respect. When I was at university, I wanted everything I made to have a reason or rationality behind it and confront others with my thoughts, that was highly conceptual. That’s not how the art market works, you need to make it palatable for people to get behind or they lose interest. So, I’ve been focusing on sneaky conceptualism, mine being negation. So, I make paintings with large empty spaces that take up most of the space, showing that the opposite of making (sometimes destroying) is still important in regard to the composition.
Simply, after coming out of Uni I’ve had to be smarter in how I create something with an idea whilst also making it engaging for the audience.
When did you first involve yourself with the art scene? Was this due to your educational experiences, or were you inspired from other parts of your life?
It would have been at Nottingham Trent University. I had always been interested in art but I had never been with other creative people until then. The art side of my life had always been self-directed compared to others whose entire lives were artistic. Mine only really got started 5 years ago.
During this residency, what are your plans? How are you using this time at Surface?
To explore the unexamined. The unexamined fitting my practice of negation as both are seen as null. Why would you look into something that you haven’t thought about? Just like the stuff you haven’t really had to think about. I’m also using this time to experiment on the public a tiny bit, using unconscious acts and making them conscious. It’s rather imposing, but it gets easier as the days go on.
Where else have you exhibited, and other than the EM18 Show on 2nd November, do you have any future exhibitions?
I’ve exhibited in Liverpool at the Trophy Room (which has now closed) earlier this year. The exhibition was using the space to make the painting become the space; think how most paintings in a museum just become part of the furniture. Apart from that, I have been part of Of a Curious Nature which was also at Surface. I approached people during the show with a bright light and tried to keep eye contact. That was a load of fun. Except for those, I haven’t got any plans in the future after this show.
As a final question I’ve asked everyone I’ve interviewed, what do you think is the future of the arts? And if you had infinite resources, what kind of work would you make in that future?
For the future of arts? Death maybe? How do you keep making things knowing all the market wants are nice objects? That’s not actually how I feel, but more interesting things are happening outside the traditional ways of art. Collectives and happenings are more prevalent than sculpture and paintings these days. People want stories or concepts more than nice objects. Assemble and Paul Iago come to mind. And then there’s the need for challenging narratives, art can only be political and social now. Everything you choose has a connotation that you cannot escape. You use cement? Is that a comment on building on greenbelt land or a glamorizing of the brutalist architecture that is now used in many council apartments? It’s no longer the case that materials make nice things, because those things now have meaning on their own. Art for art’s sake is dead, thank god.
In the future, I want to explore this infinitude of possibilities in different ways, might be paintings, might be a book of some sort. All I know is that the things I’m interested in are still there and are full of potential personally. The negation is overpopulated with possibilities.
Thank you very much James! You can see their work at the opening PENUMBRA!