Art can all too quickly become very serious in its meaning and application, so when news of Rochdale cartoon artist Vincent James’s residency at PAPER Gallery arrived in my inbox not long ago, it seemed to be the perfect summer respite and an opportunity to feature his work across this issue.

James borrows his starting points from his favourite animated series, then combines and manipulates them into his own compositions across a variety of media, all very vibrant and eye-catching. It’s art with a sense of humour.

Vincent tells us about the origins of his passion, punning and tinned food.

What is your earliest memory of making art, and when did you start to see it as something you could make a living from?

I remember drawing with friends when I was younger. I used to draw futuristic buildings and vehicles with my friend Steven when we were little. From what I remember, they were a bit like schematics which showed different levels and compartments and what people were up to in them. I also remember copying characters from the comic 2000AD in third year of junior school with my friend, Bez. We’d be drawing instead of doing exercises from our Five-a-Day maths books.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it as something I could make a living from. It’s just the thing I wasn’t too bad at and was always interested in.

Which cartoons did you watch growing up? Are there any animators in particular who have inspired you and your art?

Growing up I watched Tom and Jerry, Daffy Duck and Roadrunner, and I use these cartoons as a source for objects in my artwork. I think the Fred Quimby-era Tom and Jerry cartoons are beautifully drawn, with objects and backgrounds that have a warmth to them. I also liked, and still like, the sketchy, pulsing style of Bod Godfrey’s Roobarb and Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog. They’re animated simply, but I think the results are magical.

I was in my late teens when I discovered Terry Gilliam’s animation. His appropriation of images and cut-out technique is something that really appeals to me. The humour and surreal nature of his work have been an influence on my work too. I think, like the Firmin and Postgate animations, there is an honesty and charm to the simple stop-motion technique used to create this work.

Later still, I was into Ren and Stimpy and I love the close-up shots where you can see all the grisly details. Recently I’ve been watching Adventure Time and a few objects from that world have cropped up in my work.

You’ve depicted and created plenty of knives and axes with a comic twist. Would you still do this if you weren’t using the softened tones of cartoon imagery, and has the violence in comics and graphic novels influenced your work?

The violence of cartoons like Tom and Jerry is parodied brilliantly in The SimpsonsItchy and Scratchy, but I don’t think it’s the violence that has drawn me to using cartoons as a starting point for my work. All the props in a cartoon are up for grabs for me to appropriate, and if an object allows me to skewer one thing to another or pin something to the wall, all the better.

One of the first cartoon objects I made was a hatchet stuck in the wall. If I can use an object to transform the space or interact with another object to create something new then I feel like I’m doing something right. It’s the simplified language of cartoons and how the objects represented are pared down to their essentials that interest me.

Which of your past exhibitions has been your favourite and why?

The first show I had at Ace Gallery in LA was exciting, because there was work by Carl Andre and Richard Serra being shown at the same time. I think my exhibition, Suspended Animation, at Touchstones in Rochdale was probably my best experience though. It was the first time I’d shown sculpture, a wall drawing and animation together in one exhibition. Also, it’s a great space to show in and everyone at Touchstones is super nice.

With wordplay central to your art, could you envisage any crossovers or collaborations with poets, comedians or authors?

I haven’t collaborated with any of the wordsmiths you mentioned, but I’d be open to it. The titles of my earlier cartoon pieces were very straightforward and boring, in that they just described the piece – Hatchet, Binoculars, Pie. I gradually started to be more playful with the titles to make it more interesting. Looney Tunes cartoons often have punning titles and I think that probably gave me the idea initially.

I’ve collaborated with Sam McLoughlin, a musician, on a sculpture I made called Mixed Bag. It’s a bin bag slumped against a wall with a toxic looking spill leaking out of it. I took the bin bag from Ren and Stimpy and the spill from The Simpsons. Sam sampled sounds from the cartoons I appropriated the objects from. He used these samples to create a sound element for the work, which spills out of the bag like the toxic waste.

What plans do you have for your residency at PAPER Gallery?

I think one of the good things about a residency is the opportunity to work in a different space and explore new ideas. With that in mind, I’m trying not to make too many plans and see what happens. That said, I’m hoping to concentrate more on the animation side of my work and give my cartoon objects the chance to explore, experiment and animate the space at PAPER. I’m also keen to get visitors involved in drawing, animating or sharing ideas on the open Saturdays during the residency.

battlepipes

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What is your favourite medium for creating art? Does technology help or hinder your ideas?

Although I enjoy working with all different materials, I suppose my work tends to lean more towards the craft side of making, with my sewing and paper cut-outs.

When I use technology in my work, I usually find that it helps and hinders in equal measure. The first animations I made were done totally digitally and, although I had some great help from my friend Robb, I still found the process quite frustrating. When I switched to stop-motion and pushing bits of paper around on a desk, it can still be frustrating, but at least it’s me making the mistakes and not something happening inside a computer.

What else do you have lined up for the remainder of 2015?

PAPER have asked me to put some work in for The Manchester Contemporary in September and I’m taking part in Todmorden’s Open Studios in October. I’ll also be making work for my show at PAPER, which is in January next year.

Good advice your wish you’d been told earlier?

Tinned food boiled is tinned food spoiled.

Vincent James is currently undergoing a six-week residency at PAPER Gallery in Manchester, and will open his studio there to the public from 11am to 5pm every Saturday until 5 September. 

axisweb.org/p/vincentjames
paper-gallery.co.uk

Ian Pennington