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Artist Q&A: Vincent James

Based in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, Vinny has worked with The Hepworth Wakefield as an artist educator, devising and leading creative workshops for a range of audiences since 2015. Here we find out about his artistic practice.

Could you please tell us a little about the sort of work you produce?

I make sculptures, collages and animations using objects appropriated from cartoons. In my work, objects from different cartoon worlds collide to create strange or whimsical interactions.

What was your path to becoming an artist?

I’ve enjoyed drawing for as long as I can remember and my interest in comics and cartoons has stayed with me since childhood. The simplified visual language of comics and cartoons has always appealed to me with the illustrations of Hergé in The Adventures of Tintin being a good example. On my Art Foundation course I started to develop my drawings through printmaking which I continued in my Fine Art degree. In the final year of the degree I began making sculptures of children’s toys which were simplified versions of real-life objects. This led to making sculptures of cartoon objects which I’ve been making since my MA in 1998-99.

What is the creative process you go through when planning new work?

The work always begins with drawing. I collect the objects from different cartoons by drawing them first on layout paper. The layout paper is half way between paper and tracing paper and allows me to quickly trace a drawing and bring objects together in different arrangements. These ideas could then become the starting point for a sculpture, collage or animation. Although I never use the characters from cartoons in my work, I see this expanding collection of objects as a cast of characters, often appearing in more than one work in various scenarios.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

 Tom and Jerry was the first cartoon I appropriated objects from and an iron was the first cartoon sculpture I made. Between 1940-55 Fred Quimby was the producer of Tom and Jerry and I think the backgrounds and props during that era are beautifully drawn and painted. I moved onto the Looney Tunes cartoons such as Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The Simpsons has been a good source of inspiration with Grampa Simpson’s false teeth and Chief Wiggum’s pizza being two examples that I’ve used in my work. I’ve mined plenty of props from Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time which has objects from the modern-day world littered through its fairytale post-apocalyptic landscape.

Seeing work by other artists is inspiring and a good way to get ideas. I enjoy referencing or making alternate versions of other artists’ work. A recent sculpture Bagged Up (see image gallery below) is inspired by Plank Piece I-II (1973) by Charles Ray.

Is there anything you are particularly trying to achieve through the work you create?

I think the artworld can often be very serious and stuffy. In 2012 I saw David Shrigley’s show Brain Activity at the Hayward Gallery with two friends. They had gone ahead of me and before I caught up I could hear them begin to laugh. By the time I joined them they were both laughing uncontrollably at an animation of a headless drummer bashing out a drum solo.

When I make work I hope it will be surreal, stupid or funny. If my work gets a laugh like the headless drummer then I’ll be happy. 

Working as an artist educator at The Hepworth gives me the chance to share this approach with young people visiting the gallery. I want them to know that being in a gallery can be fun and that making art is enjoyable.

Where can we see your work?

Axisweb has a selection of my work from 1999 to the present and on Vimeo you can see my animations. I also use Instagram to share images of my artwork.

I’ve recently been working on a new piece for the group show Invasive Species  by the Yorkshire Sculptors Group at the RHS garden at Harlow Carr from 1st September 2020 to January 2021.

Through lockdown I’ve been continuing to work with The Hepworth Wakefield’s Art Social group.

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