Why it's okay to be a mutant: with James Kirkpatrick
James Kirkpatrick must be a mutant. Forever evolving his myriad of crafts into new forms, he is one of the most hard working creative people you’ll meet. Once a prominent graffiti artist and member of the left-field hip-hop scene, he's now a prolific contemporary artist and motley musician.
You'd think that James must have emerged out of the background radiation of a creative nuclear explosion. He does zines, paintings, drawings, sculptures, books, murals, comics, musical recordings and performance. For a long time, his multifariousness made it hard to pin down what his many projects or personas had to do with one another. He has the aliases Thesis Sahib and Gym Zsahib. He's part of the band Awards (with Funken), as well as art groups Dusty Peas, Brain Trust and the New Regionalists (which includes Jamie Q, Jason McLean, and Billy Bert Young).
Over the years, whatever mutagen cocktail James digests seems to be amalgamating his various selves. Through circuit bending and arduino implementation James has been incorporating musical elements into his sculptures for a while now. In an upcoming exhibition at the McIntosh Gallery he is playing videos of his younger self inside one sculpture. We recently spoke with James about about his new projects while at his home in London (Canada).
LondonFuse: Part of the character to your paintings, drawings or sculptures comes from the surfaces you use, whether that be found wood, cardboard, brick or another material. Which surface do you enjoy working with the most?
Currently, I have been working over a lot of older work that is unfinished. Paintings that I never felt were fully resolved. I am enjoying that - I often do that. I am also enjoying painting on some fabric and fiberglass sculptures I am making. For my solo show at McIntosh gallery, most of the fabrics are thrift store finds and stuffed with the filling from stuffed animals. I like painting on these 3D shapes.
LondonFuse: Lately, you seem to be producing a lot more sculptures made from paper mache, found materials, electronics, and so on. You also seem to be incorporating more of your musical side into your artwork. How has this come about?
I was altering a lot of electronics so I could use them in my music shows and many of them got too big to bring to shows - so I let them get bigger and they became sculptures. I also use the sounds of these things in my songs. I sample them and chop them up. Sometimes I try not to alter them a lot but sometimes I do.
LondonFuse: Your exhibit coming up at McIntosh (April 17th to June 7th) incorporates elements of your past, such as your life as a graffiti artist, along with your contemporary work. Why have you chosen to synthesize your past into your artwork?
I create what I want, no matter what space I am showing in. Most commercial galleries are generally concerned with showing the latest objects that I am making. They can put these new things in a context that makes sense for right now. Past achievements are usually kept in a book to view as something separate. Visitors to those galleries can see these books, talk to the gallery representative, view that work as it is or have some kind of knowledge ahead of time of what I am doing.
In a public gallery or museum like McIntosh you can tell a story in a different way, with lots of objects that have no concern of being a sellable piece. There is funding to build in those spaces, and be able to show a side that has no connection with the selling world.
I include challenging work in commercial spaces and I continually create items regardless of if they sell. In most cases there is a difference of how far you can push things in each setting.
Most of the recent museum/artist run type places I have exhibited in are in group shows where the curator is talking about a specific moment or aesthetic/cultural happening that I am or was involved in. They are looking at a lot of artists at once and select the work ahead of time to fit it all in.
For a solo show like this I can create new work with new challenges in the space. There can be a focus on additional things that I and the curators of this show think help tell a story in a sense. That is why we have the video footage of live shows, pre-famous underground rappers recording in my old bedrooms or the behind the scenes shots of my friends painting on walls in other countries.
The way that I am including this older work - I don't see it as trying to showcase older work but more to explain what is going on in the background - in the past and some things that I think are kind of fun or neat that I normally don't get to show people unless they come over to my house and we bust out the VHS player.
This show is also not trying to be a retrospective in any way either. Just trying to explain a little more than I usually get to.
LondonFuse: We’ve talked before about your love for certain eighties pop culture, in particular cartoons like G.I. Joe and Transformers, as well as Doctor Who and video games. How do these things factor into your artwork?
I am and have always been attracted to the design and art work of these things. They are what inspired me to create early on. I love them now for different aesthetic reasons and I often look at them to remain motivated. I am also really into the story telling, other possibilities and alternatives to everything. I like how science fiction allows people to think about the "what if".
I have also found myself really interested in conspiracy theories - as story telling. And I find humour and interest in how a lot of the cartoons and comics from the 70's/80's had underlying stories in them that have been obviously written by people who pay attention to those sort of conspiracies or alternative ways of thinking. I also get hyped on the theories of people who believe that those cartoons are plants to get us to think a certain way now or can draw links to how those things fit into what goes on politically. So I am interested in that stuff for a whole bunch of reasons - not so much interested in the new versions of them or in selling a badly mad plastic product or whatever.
LondonFuse: What was your favourite illustrative or art book as a young tot?
I was always into books like "the making of" something. Like showing how a movie was made or drawings of characters before they were made into puppets or costumes. I was always trying to re-draw what was in them. But really the GI Joe comics were pretty amazing. The whole story is about a guy who is just trying to make America better but it goes completely off the rails. It's all about Billy's dad (the nerds will get it).
LondonFuse: On the musical front, you have a fairly new collaboration called Awards. How did that come about?
The guy's name is Funken (pronounced Foon-kin). I met him in France because I was touring with some of his friends. He and his friends came to Canada and we toured together. He made me some beats for my last solo project (BEFORE THE END). When I was on tour in Europe a bit after that he showed me a bunch of rad instrumentals he made for me with his friends and then the next time I was in Europe we recorded our EP.
And I was there in October touring for the release of that EP (on Vinyl and Cassette) and recorded more songs for our full length.
LondonFuse: You have your exhibition happening at McIntosh. What’s next? Japan?
Yeah, the McIntosh is April 24th, then I go to Japan the next day for a tour with Trune Gods. There will also be an art exhibition of my work and Japanese artists that will be accompanying those shows.