James Kirwan’s wildly colourful semi abstract paintings are like windows to a world where you wish you could travel to. Dashes, squiggles and arabesques of pink, turquoise, yellow, lime green and more dance on the surface of the canvas. In other works, toucans, tangled jungle leaves and houses hint of far off tropic lands.
James’ work brings together a range of styles and influences. Elements of street art, and illustration sit cheek by jowl with figurative landscapes and pure abstraction while colour cues reference Memphis design and tropicana. For James, who lives and works in Dublin Ireland, this is all part of the fun. His approach is very much guided by intuition, and regularly works on many different pieces at the same time. There’s an innate playfulness in James’ work which we love. In the interview below we chat with the artist to find out more about his work, influences and more.
AMM: Hi James! If you were a colour, which one would you be and why?
JK: I don’t think I have a favourite colour, there’s too many tasty ones to choose from. Maybe turquoise because it’s quite tropical.
AMM: What does your studio look and feel like?
JK: It’s a bit wonky, has paintings everywhere and some works on paper stuck to the walls. It has windows on 2 sides, not a great view but it lets in that all important light. I feel comfortable in it and I’m productive there so that makes me happy. It’s my personal sanctuary.
AMM: Are you influenced by your surroundings and environment? In what ways?
JK: Definitely. It might be a subconscious thing, I mean visually. I’ve moved from city to countryside to a different country before just to get out of my comfort zone and be inspired by a different place and pace of living
AMM: There are elements of illustration and street art in your work. What are some of the things that influence and inspire you?
JK: Yeah I was always interested in graffiti and street art and used to do more illustrative work so I think it’s only natural that I would include these elements (either consciously or subconsciously) and that they would soak into my work. To be inspired by what I am drawn to and what I’m familiar with can only be a good thing for my work.
AMM: Colour is evidently a main feature of your work. Can you tell us more about this and how you devise your colour palettes?
JK: Colour is pretty much one of the main factors or drive in my work. It steers and dictates and dominates what is going on in each piece. A lot of it is experimentation but sometimes I might see two or three colours side by side somewhere and take a mental note of it or take a photo and try and get it into a piece. I get really, really excited when this happens! Instagram is also great for bookmarking photos that appeal to me colour-wise.
AMM: What mediums do you work in and why?
JK: I mostly use acrylics, I always have. It’s good to try out different mediums and all that but I always come back to acrylics. I sometimes use a bit of spray paint, I really enjoy using it but I’m by no means that good with it. I’ll get around to playing with oils a little more someday.
AMM: What themes or ideas are you currently exploring in your work?
JK: Hmm, good question. I try not to get in to concepts. Half the time I don’t really know myself what I’m doing but it might make sense further down the line. For me, it’s best to keep creating and let intuition take over. But to try and give you a more solid answer, there are loose themes of wanderlust, exploration, escapism and transcendence of ego.
AMM: What’s your working process? Do you plan each work out before you start or follow a more intuitively process?
JK: There’s not much planning at all really. I definitely lean more on the intuitive side, especially with my abstract pieces. I tend to work on many pieces at once, I hop around between them all, making small changes at a time. I often come back to old pieces that have been sitting there for ages and completely switch them up. Other paintings that might include a landscape or house or person or whatever might take a little bit of planning but I still paint each layer or element one by one, like a collage.
AMM: Earlier this year you spent a couple weeks on residency at the remote Cill Rialaig Artist Retreat. How was the experience and making work in this space?
JK: It was an amazing experience. It’s such a beautiful part of Ireland with mountains and cliffs and the ocean and islands. It’s also a dark sky reserve area and I looked through a telescope one clear night and saw some things that blew my mind. So I tried to include these things that inspired me in the work that I produced there. I did some print making with a friend for the first time since my college years, which was great. It was just a really positive experience all round, food for the soul.
AMM: What are you watching, reading and listening to right now?
JK: I don’t really watch too many series or TV. I can’t wait for the new series of Rick and Morty!
At the moment I’m reading JG Ballard’s High Rise but I’m a slow reader. I listen to so much music and always keep an ear out for new stuff. I’ll just give you a list of some favourites: Madlib, MF Doom, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Kurt Vile, Hope Sandoval/Mazzy Star, Clark, SD Laika, Dean Blunt, Kuedo, Battles, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Oneohtrix Point Never, Badbadnotgood, a LOT of rap and hip hop, grime and instrumental stuff, ambient stuff and on and on and on!
AMM: What’s next for you?
JK: No major plans really, I just want to keep painting and see where it takes me. I have a little show coming up in my home town with a friend in August. I’ll have a few more pieces in another group show. I would like to organize another show for myself. I never really know what’s around the corner for me so I generally just go with the flow!
Find out more about the artist: www.jamesmakeart.blogspot.co.uk
Text and interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.