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James Robinson

Shannon Reed interviews James Robinson in the lead-up to his exhibition palimpsest


Interview by Shannon Reed from The Russian Frost Farmers

Interview by Shannon Reed from The Russian Frost Farmers

James is having an exhibition at The Russian Frost Farmers Gallery in Wellington from June 26. He’s been art making his way through New Zealand since 1989, exhibiting in every corner, he may have even exhibited in your uncles basement, who knows. He has lived all over New Zealand but has recently come to Wellington from Wanganui.

James even won something called the Wallace Award for his mixed media work “Taniwha/Dragon” and was given a six month residency in New York.

Simply put James is an artist who literally puts everything he has into his work, while drawing through Nepal or painting in Dunedin, James will give it everything, and it shows.

Not only all this he is a super nice guy who has also agreed for an interview.

Russian Frost Farmers: James, I said in your introduction that you have been art making your way through New Zealand, I mean this not only physically but mentally as well, when we have talked before you seem to be very aware of the tradition of art in New Zealand particularly painters, is this something that effects your work, and could you describe what your practice actually is?
I know most would consider you a painter, is this what you are?

James: Yeah I’m a painter. It keeps it simple. I draw a lot too. From doodling to more serious mark making experiments. I suppose the history and kaupapa behind these two formal disciplines is a anchor in a wide open field of possibilities today.

I suppose I think reality is up for grabs in our postmodern oil based economy’s of unconscious behavioural indulgences. That through the physical acts of recording and internal critical and process acts of heart and mind we can come to some form of transformation..recognition and ultimately the pageantry of showing and shrewing.

Having said that..I’m slowly becoming more involved in what I suppose is process concept shows. That is to say… slices of attitude that come from a recognition of things that keep talking to me as interesting …alongside the “finished” work.

For instance..our show the back of works is a legitimate and interesting experiment that honours this incidental and no less interesting end result. And in art where all frequencies of practice are relevant …and have been investigated probably before in history internationally..
To “see” things and be open to other perspectives on our own practice is important.

But yeah
I’m a painter.
I collaborate a lot too. Music, film, curation, documentation etc..
Culture is shared to be relevant..beyond narcissism. I suppose that’s what drives me.  I need to belong.
I’m weak like that.
Martin hand painted patches.

RFF: You are very prolific, you have two shows on now, just had a performance at freds and this one coming up with us, it must take a lot of energy painting and exhibiting all the time, Is producing work a form of meditation for you or do you find meditation elsewhere? I know you like to go tramping for example.

James: Ah yeah nah. It’s just that it’s my full time job eh. Like…peripheral a student out loud..
Kinda just add to the formal sort of dealer or public show stuff. So I think you know when there’s not a lot of “economy” for art. As in money you create currency by action and the actual process of embodying the acts publicly. I am getting braver as a shy person in showing based on 20 years of working as a full time artist. So its sorta necessary for me to honour the process that I am enriched by. By performing collaborating and showing general developments..confusion around identity function purpose..

I’m really interested in art as social and cultural work…and reclaiming art work as a valid identity and empowerment for artists other than just market values.

Which is a part of it..but not at all the whole part. Art from the previous century was vital and all the various movements are documented and ensconced in the annals of edu tain ment protocols taught today.

Our time as humans culture and individuals are no less urgent or as fundamental as the pre or post war times last century..

Our civilisation species and consciousness is at a fundamental pivoting point..and art is a symptom and feedback loop of the psychic whole.

We have to be real… challenging and bold be human! In the face of such de humanising..and totalitarian big brother media and science and economic propaganda that brainwashes us into fear submission and apathy. 

Art is human. and humans belong on the planet and are capable of balance and sustainable compassionate frequencies of being.

The other we are also part cancer.
Art for me has been a transformative and necessary universal action of self enquiry and ritual magical delusional impulses of inadequacy challenge and assertion of worth in a relatively hostile scary world.
and art..are about all that matters.
I think of it as my garden…protest march..and existential commitment to being opposed to dead.

RFF: Are there any past or contemporary artists that inspire you or your work?

James: Yes. Heaps and heaps. But I mostly like nature and music. Sex and movies. Arts in the doing…but it’s also something I’m constantly being educated about as its huge as you know.

We can only be the weird little loop of information we are capable of being. and cringe as we do at the past..we are on a journey’s a stain we leave for others.. consciously or not.

I like the incidental art. Artist. Teacher in small profound ways. The seeing that occurs when we least expect it.
That’s the art..seeing. Consciousness itself.  You know?

RFF: Your works in the past deal with trauma and heightened emotion. Your most recent work has the same refined skill application but there seems to be more reflection maybe a little more light at the end of the tunnel would you agree with this, because the big diptych (Threshold), at Mark Hutchins Gallery looks as though you may have enjoyed the process as much as i enjoyed its presence.

James: Thanks for noticing that work. Yeah it’s a favourite one. Really balls out there in the wind on the mountain.
aah …yeah it’s a approximation of processes of culture through my body..into objects and nature of the awareness and notes from trinkets of stuff that accumulates in our memory’s, life’s,  I mean, what’s special sacred …discarded or worthless or sacred. The whole in a process is the thing.

I’ve cemented in a real passionate natural disaster
.. the flood
the information age
the head being severed.
my brother hung himself..not sure if that’s his ghost helping me to see the totality of the whole through a disembodiment.. I mean..that “gate” of threshold that we see in death or birth …as the story goes. It’s mystery anyhow.But the whole thing..were in my projections of self into the rainbow of world trauma and wonder of universe is part of it, self consciousness there for..the relic of the DNA of our trace here in time on this wee blue spot edge of galaxy.

I’m a mystic really. Threshold is a maximized sentiment toward all the themes discussed above and is a record of the action of it in the Asian modality of the moment, act, gesture.

RFF: So part of your exhibition with us is showing the backs of your paintings, do you feel this is moving even deeper into your sub-consciousness and are you aware when painting, that there’s some interesting stuff bleeding through to the back and does this also effect the way you think about the front, hope that question makes sense.

James: Yeah I’ve always liked the residual marks the threading of voices that aren’t immediately intended.
Like when we engage in any thing in life ..the goal or outcome may not be the most important thing.

The other things under the surface..hidden remnant may be the truer and more free things… slipping by the council of ego attachment of the maker.

Also there’s the ghost angle..the memory of energy’s here before. In this sense I’m likening the work to a NZ landscape ..structural sort of assemblage like McCahons works. Also there’s the parchment backs of work reference in the term palimpsest. which suggests to me the dead. The voices of the past..the forgotten..alienated forgotten. The trace of the unknown. But everything leaves a stain in some way or another.

I can’t speak for any dead diseased Maori tribe member from  the past. or sailor abandoned after clubbing heaps of dead seals for mother England or his family on the other side of the world.

The treaty document that galvanises Aotearoa as a bi-cultural nation..under the dollar and tokenism…and own-able fashion rhetoric of owning class academic art guilt industry culture.. landscape.. but you a sensitive..who’s to say what energy we sense. I’ve often had a lot of wee senses of others lurking about.. or I’ve got an over active to do with lots of time in big black sheds alone I suppose. The backs I’m representing are a urgent mission I have needed to do for some time. And I am very grateful for you to let me do this. and very glad too for Black Boned Angel..Campbell Kneale and James T share the wonderful process that hopefully will work well with the hides strung together.

RFF: Some of your works have a sci fi/paranormal feel to them is this something you have always been interested in?

James:  Yep. My dad took me to 2001 when I was like 6. We queued up for Jabba the hut for two blocks in Chch!
Mum took me to poltergeist as well when I was real little. And people are bloody scary too. Suppose its normal to wonder what the relationships of the mind body soul and time the big big universe. Artists are allowed to play…so ya better.

RFF: Well thanks James for your time, I am looking forward to your exhibition PALIMPSEST at The Russian Frost Farmers and also to Black Boned Angel, who will be creating the sound environment for your works.

James: Choice cuz. You’ve been real nice and hospitable and the frost gleams from the jaw bone of your ancestor!
may warm breasts keep you warm on your trails through the hinterland of the grandmother and grandfather to open to the wonderful castle of dreams and ummm a good gallery for people to do interesting things in.
bless ya

James has a website where you can read and look some more here.

Written by

The Russian Frost Farmers

25 Jun 2010

Interests THE RUSSIAN FROST FARMERS / TRFF GALLERY An umbrella for creative adventures, supporting the idea of utopian lifestyles beyond the realm of chronic organization. Physically we run an interdisiplinary studio, TRFF Gallery/Project Space and an online community.