Whilst visiting ‘Metanoia’ at Waterside Arts, we picked up the price list and hoped we could afford to buy one of the paintings. With our fingers crossed, breaths held, we looked at the price. Ah well…. We will save a few pennies and buy one of the prints instead!
We we taken aback by James Roper’s paintings, falling in love with the detail, the colours, shapes. We fell into these surreal, dream-like landscapes, they were other-wordly, beach-like settings with these huge atomic bombs of psychedelic, fabric-like shapes exploding in the centre. We knew we had to find out more about these pieces and James Roper himself.
This interview covers loads from finding out about how Roper works, to getting really deep and emotional, talking about his depression and his suicidal thoughts. It’s so heart-warming that Roper is now in a position to talk about these emotions, which a lot of people struggle to do. So read on to find out more about this intriguing artist.
I felt like this excerpt was the perfect introduction to Roper’s work:
James Roper: ‘Baroque art has had both a visual and conceptual influence on my work in the same way. Just as the Baroque leads the viewer into the spiritual or religious experience via extremely sensual exaggerated forms, I’ve always tried to leave a trail of breadcrumbs out beyond the edge of my paintings, to lead the viewer away from the extravagant surfaces and into something deeper. Whether it be through discussions about the work (like this), engaging directly in the recent workshops or now with what I am starting to put out on my social media channels. I’m more and more wanting to expand what people see as artistic practice into something far more holistic and less disconnected from, not only who the artist is, but how the viewer can create for themselves and experience the ideas that inform the work on a much more personal level.’
Cotton On Mcr: So how would you describe your work?
JR: ‘Neo-Baroque, psychedelic, pop-surrealism.’
CO: How would you describe your studio space?
JR: ‘A pretentious artsy new age man cave.’
That made us laugh!
CO: What has been the best/most influential exhibition you have visited?
JR: ‘The Alexander McQueen retrospective ‘Savage Beauty’ at the V&A is hard to beat. The curation of the show was perfectly in alignment with McQueen’s vision, you became completely absorbed in his world – something I’d like to move towards doing with my own work. I’ve always looked to haute couture fashion for inspiration so to be able to see McQueen’s shear breadth of work up close within a space that evolved, along with his differing styles, as you moved through it was an amazing experience.’
CO: Your exhibition, ‘Metanoia’ is currently on at Waterside Arts, how is that going?
JR: ‘Great thanks. It’s been great to show such a large body of work locally. I’ve also been holding events in the space related to the work which is something I’ve never done before. It’s allowed me to show a more holistic view of the way I want my art to be experienced. Allowing viewers to connect with the influences behind my work on a personal level has been great to see and hopefully deepens the experience of my work for those involved.’
CO: I read an interview of yours recently where you discussed how people are obsessed with the surface, bored with real life – what makes you think that?
JR: ‘To me it’s pretty obvious that our culture, by and large, is preoccupied with surface. Our engagement with it is fairly passive and experiences have a tendency to be vicarious in nature. In a confused attempt to increase the feeling of depth of our cultural experiences there seems to be an impulse to increase the breadth of them instead, to somehow satiate the desire for a truly full and meaningful experience that we’re failing to get. This has lead us to what J.G.Ballard described as ‘the death of affect’.’
One example of the way I’ve tackled this in my own life is in starting to practice martial arts I was able to fully connect to different energies and physical expressions within my actual body rather than doing so passively through watching kung fu films or UFC fights.
My work is an attempt to bridge the gap between that superficial breadth and deeper levels of experience. Through the conflation of multiple forms, colours and content, that is both influenced by and directly appropriated from the aesthetics of pleasure present in modern media – whether it be sourcing imagery from the hyper-realities of perfume adverts or Japanese cartoons – I’m simultaneously questioning and indulging in those visual styles.
CO: I read that you recently suffered from depression, how has this affected you and your work?
JR: ‘On a personal level I had to change a large part of who I was in order to overcome it. It’s my belief that depression is a warning sign to tell people that certain aspects about who they are and how they’re living aren’t healthy or in line with what they truly want from life, beneath what may have been passed down to them from family or society in general. I was suicidal for a period, but what no one knew to tell me was that I only really wanted to kill off certain aspects of who I was, not my whole self.’
‘I started the ‘Metanoia’ series just before that severe bought of depression and looking back I think my subconscious knew it was coming, or that something needed to change, and I was trying to tell myself that. Similar to the way a dream might, as the imagery of the work partly reflects.
‘Metanoia’ which means to ‘change ones mind’ was a term Carl Jung used to describe the need for the psyche to break down in order to be reformed into another more robust self. I was clearly trying to tell myself something, but as with most of my work I initially produced it on instinct without any real specific reason why, then only when analysing the work afterwards did I realise why I’d made it and then expanded upon those ideas more consciously.’
CO: You also do martial arts, can you tell us more about that?
JR: ‘I started practicing Nam Pai Chuan Shaolin Kung fu in 2009. After high school I had stopped playing sports or exercising and I’d become very sedentary working on my paintings all day. After a period of emotional upheaval in my life at the time – which in hindsight I’d say was partly a result of my depression – I felt the need to express the explosive energy that I was putting into my work not just artistically but though my body. It’s said in Japan that a calligrapher can only achieve mastery of their art if they are also a black belt in a martial art, only then can they truly understand the flow of energy in their brush.’
CO: Looking back over our Instagram, we have shared a couple of your pieces including the making of ‘Litora Aurea Lux’ and ‘Coalescence’ at MediaCityUK – can you tell us more about those?
JR: ”Litora Aurea Lux’ is part of my ‘Metanoia’ series. The title is Latin for ‘Shores of Golden Light’. It depicts in the background a seascape off the coast of Los Angeles, a place that has played a distinctive role in my personal and artistic life. The West Coast of the U.S. has always seemed to have a strange pull on the human psyche in general I think. The gold rush of the mid 1800’s saw many people flock to the West coast of the U.S. in search of prosperity. Today there is a similar influx each year to L.A. of aspiring creatives wanting to make it big in Hollywood and turn their talent into the precious metal of an Emmy or an Oscar, something I explored in ‘The Inscending Sprial’ series. ‘Litora Aurea Lux’ depicts an abstracted sense of this, a promise of something beyond, an ethereal other-worldly form that seems born out of the energetic field of those transcendent California dreams.’
‘‘Coalescence’ was commissioned for the atrium space in White Tower at MediaCity in Salford. It was based around my origami based sculptural piece ‘Construct’ which I made between 2005-2008. My work has always in a sense been about bringing together smaller elements to create a bigger whole and with ‘Construct’ and ‘Coalescence’ I took inspiration from how molecular structures work in a similar way. Both pieces are made of hand-made paper modules that are based on Fullerenes, carbon based molecular structures named after Buckmeister Fuller who worked with similarly shaped Geodesic domes in his architectural forms.
‘Coalescence’ which spans 20 meters wide and three floors in height was the largest, and most challenging, piece of work I’ve done to date. It took 4 solid months of work with the help of 7 assistants to put together and hang.’
CO: What would you say is the highlight of your career so far?
JR: ‘Along the way I’ve had numerous highlights, from Kanye West wearing one of my t-shirts to having a solo show in New York. Although they seem on the surface to be stand out moments I honestly feel doing the workshops as part of this recent show has given me real insight into what’s possible with my work in the future. I’d like to raise more awareness around mental health issues as well as workshops and talks themed around that. I’ve a feeling I’ll look back on them as the start of something much more connecting and grounded, not just some frivolous name drop but the initial steps into broadening how I might connect with the viewers of my work and the impact it can have on them.
CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene?
JR: ‘It may be small but it’s healthy. I’ve found it a little hard to fit in, partly due to showing so much overseas but also due to the nature of my work I think. I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart, whereas the art scene here in general is much more forward looking, as it should be. I’m wanting more and more to do things locally so you may see a lot more of me in the near future.’
CO: If you could live in any painting/artwork, which would it be?
JR: ‘Great question. As much as I love Baroque art I think living in that sort of orgiastic spiritual turbulence would be a little draining after a day or two. I’d rather spend my time in any of the peaceful Japanese landscapes of the woodblock print master Kawase Hasui.’
‘Metanoia‘ is on at Waterside Arts, from 23rd November – 12th January (so get there quick).