Published May 1st, 2015
SPOOK: So James, tell me about your start and history within art? Have you stuck to the style you’re involved with now or done any other mediums?
James McCullough: I guess I started to make paintings when I was about 14, before that it was just drawings of teachers I didn’t like. My Teacher in year 9 exposed me to a lot of Australian artists like Peter Booth, Howard Arkley and George Gittoes… I was always into the style of Australian paintings, the colours were so unique and the forms seemed to be almost, for lack of a better word – taking the piss but still very honest.
In school I remember being really excited about how much paint the art room had because no one else really seemed to care, so it was all mine to use. So I started using heavy oil paint pretty much straight away and ruining my school uniform. My teacher used to call me up when I would sleep in and leave angry messages on my nokia 3315 telling me to get my ass into class and finish my paintings. After lugging tiles around on roofs for two years once leaving school, and not really making any work I decided it was time to do what I wanted. I went to Australian academy of design in Port Melbourne where I studied for four years. AAD is a great huge old factory; the visual art area was down the back so we could get fairly messy and not really get in too much trouble… Since graduating I’ve been working night shifts to support my art practice. I play around with film and photography too, but painting just feels right for me.
Do you find your art lives with you or do you keep art and life separate?
I try and make something everyday. Whether it’s a drawing or a piece of writing or a photo. I think as an artist you should always be thinking, writing things down, drawing. In saying that, I feel that there needs to be a balance. You do need to switch off sometimes and have a beer otherwise I would go insane.
It’s clear you have specific influences with your art. Do you intend to follow them and pay homage to them or do you intend to do your own thing?
I think you’re always going to “do your own thing”. Unless you’re completely ripping off another painting, your hand is your own and if you’re trying to lose that then you have just started in the wrong place. There is always going to be influence in everything we do, I think its only natural to be influenced by things that attract us. I have a pretty soft spot for Australian art, so yes I am very influenced by greats like Streeton, Nolan and Whiteley although I hope to work painting out for myself and hope that it takes its own form.
What other artists are you drawn to? Does this affect your work much?
Al Weiwei is one of the best artists of our generation. He has constant surveillance on him from the Chinese government because they think he is a threat, although he fights back with his work and always seems to win. I really respect artists who have a passion for making work no matter who says you can’t. My work is subjective and can be taking anyway you like it, although some imagery is very suggestive and I like this balance.
Do you feel education is significant when it comes to art or irrelevant?
Going to art school was great for making friends, being surrounded by creative minds and getting cheap pints when we should have been at professional practice, but I don’t think it makes you a better or worse artist. For me it was an excuse to push myself in the direction I needed to go in, rather than being stuck on a building site. Even if I wasn’t listening in my lectures I was surrounded by the things I needed to be surrounded by. I was also lucky that we were never told how to make art, they just let us go and kind of work it out for ourselves and give us tips on the way.
What’s it like being a visual artist based in Melbourne? Do you wish you were in another city?
I think Melbourne is a great place for art. It’s really small and probably way too cliquey but there is some really good things going on in the visual arts and also in the music scene. I like the idea of going to New York City or Europe to have a show, but no I do not have a desire to live elsewhere. There is still way too much to be done here, anyway Ideally I wouldn’t live in the city at all, I like the bush.
You were part of the Paterson Project. What was it like to be a part of this? How was it working in such an open area and in such collaboration in comparison to working by yourself in a studio?
I had heard stories of mates of mates living in there and people playing gigs up there so I knew, although very little about the building. I was asked by my good friend Mitch Walder to be apart of the project. At first I was not that interested as I do not exactly fit the bill as a “street artist” although it was for the Royal Children’s Hospital so I jumped straight on board. It was a good energy in there the day that I went along to paint, heaps of fumes and not enough masks; I think I was spitting blue paint for three days after. People came and went over the week and added things to their spaces. It was interesting to watch the progression. The opening night was a huge turnout and the reaction to everyone’s work was great. Good cider too.
What was it like to be apart of Definitions?
It was good to be back working with people I went to the academy with. I got to see old friends and see where they had taken their practice since finishing at the academy. It was Petra Nicel’s first show as curator and she did a great job. I have work in a show called “hands” in July there also.
So this show is in a DIY space? How did you come about this and how are you feeling about the show so far? What are they about?
My hairdresser works out of this huge loft by himself in Fitzroy, with one red chair in the middle of the room and a mirror. One day whilst shaving my head I said “James can I have a show here?” he replied “yes, James”. I like the idea of having shows in spaces that are not your classic gallery style. I mean I also think that is important but not for this show. I guess I’m feeling pretty good, I’ve spent a lot of time in the studio making these new paintings and they come from a pretty interesting place. I’ve been really interested in the idea about the link between life, death and eroticism. You can’t really have one without the other.
What do you hope to achieve with your art? Is there a goal or simply the act of it sufficing?
I guess I like the idea of making people think about things differently, my recent work aims to challenge how we think of the human form. Also there is so much more to be explored within painting and it’s exciting to see where I can take it in my own practice. I don’t think its a goal of mine to get people to like my work, most artists want some kind of reaction to their work, whether it’s positive or negative. But I don’t rely on pats on the back to keep me motivated. It’s a survival thing.
Do you have any tips or anything that you’ve learned in being an emerging artist?
James’ exhibition starts tonight, Friday the 1st of May, with his recent artwork on display and for sale at rear 161 Gertrude St,Fitzroy, Melbourne 6-9pm. This is the only night it’s being exhibited so if you’re interested, don’t sleep on it. For further details head here.