James Paterson was born in 1957 in Saskatchewan, Canada. He grew up in the culturally rich and visually textured Kensington Market neighborhood of Toronto, Ontario, and received a BFA with Honors from the University of Waterloo. James taught art at the elementary and high school level before leaving teaching to pursue art full time in 1989. He has been privileged to show his work across Canada, the United States, in Europe and Asia where his pieces are part of private, public and corporate collections in those various countries. Recently, he spoke to the Examiner about his experiences working as an artist and his hopes for the future:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): How and when did you decide to become an artist?
James Paterson (J.P.): From my earliest memories I found myself engaged in creating objects, combining elements I played with or making marks on surfaces. Throughout school I loved art class and as a teenager began to be more serious about “creating art”. I started a career as a teacher, and about four years into it I realized that making a living pursuing art, which had become my passion, was a viable option so I left teaching and began making art full time as my vocation.
M.M.: Growing up, which artists/types of art interested you?
J.P.: I was drawn to artists who expressed distinctly unique, if not singular, visions of the world; the ones who didn’t seem to fit into pre-existing genres. People like Bosch and Peter Brueghel, Alex Colville, Edward Hopper, Miro, Howard Finster, Red Grooms and Fra Angelico. William Kurelek, William Heath Robinson and Rowland Emett; many of the Art Brut and Naïve artists informed me as well as Monty Python’s way of viewing the world, or poets like Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn and Edward Lear.
M.M.: How would you describe your work and what inspires it?
J.P.: I would describe my Prayer Machines as whimsical, ambiguous, machine-like objects that attempt to give expression to mystery. They are the embodiment of a desire I can’t realize on my own. They were inspired by the desire for my external expression to convey my internal journey; the seen to mirror the unseen of my life.
M.M.: How did you go about getting into galleries and/or public showcases?
J.P.: Primarily by showing my work wherever I could and word of mouth.
M.M.: Do you have a favorite piece? If so, which one and why?
J.P.: One of my favorite pieces is a Prayer Machine called, “The Myth of Progress Bowed Under the Weight of Beauty”. I liked it because of the spontaneous way it emerged as I worked on it and I felt it was one of the first big, moving pieces I did where the sum of the parts transcended the medium to create an illusion of being. For me it seemed to have a life of its own. There is a short video of it in motion on my Facebook.
M.M.: What are your mediums of choice?
J.P.: Currently I am working almost exclusively with steel wire with small additions of other mixed media such as wood, polymer and string.
M.M.: Are there any mediums that you haven’t worked with yet but hope to soon?
J.P.: I would like to continue to explore how far I can go with metal; perhaps try more with stainless steel and finishes like chrome plating; to even try casting. I am also venturing into silkscreen printing for a two-dimensional approach to the Prayer Machines.
M.M.: How did you develop your unique style?
J.P.: It came out of years of daily practise and continuing to incorporate what I see in the world around me, synthesizing it through my own prism.
M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving your artwork and/or being an artist?
J.P.: At the first show where I introduced the Prayer Machine series a man was “playing” with one of the Prayer Machines and had his back towards me. Over his shoulder he asked, “Does it work?”
“Of course it does” I responded, “you’re playing with it, aren’t you?”
“No” he said, “does Prayer work?”
I was intrigued that an idea I was posing and expressing through an art piece, about something so deep and meaningful to me, actually elicited a serious question in return. We ended up having a worthwhile forty-minute discussion. Another very rewarding, and touching experience I’ve had occurred at two different shows. Young girls, one eight, the other ten, came in with their moms who said their daughters were wanting to start their own art collections and they wished to purchase a piece of my art with their own money. I felt honored and humbled that at this young age they cared about something as esoteric as my Prayer Machines and would spend their own money to have one. The one girl returned to the same show a year later and showed me a photo on her phone of her Prayer Machine on a shelf with other art she had done.
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an artist?
J.P.: Know why you want to do it. Know why it matters to you. And know how fully committed you are willing to be to go to the end of it.
M.M.: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?
J.P.: My next three shows are: Art San Diego in November, Spectrum Miami in December and the New York Art Expo in 2017.
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To learn more about James Paterson visit his official website, Facebook and Instagram. You can also email him here.