Ahead of Battersea Spring, we sat down with our latest Artist in Residence, Shoreditch-based multidisciplinary artist James Burke. He will be exhibiting a selection of both installation and 2D artworks for sale at the fair, exploring identity and the position of art in today’s commercial world. Read on for more teasers, and to learn more about his creative inspiration…
We can’t wait to welcome you as our Artist in Residence. Could you give us an idea of your plans for Affordable Art Fair Battersea Spring?
It’s really going to be a mix of stuff. I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with materials and plan to show a wide variety of works. Two of my pieces are fully interactive so people can get involved and engage with the work. I’ll also be showing some paintings for the first time ever which is really exciting for me.
Your recent installation, ‘In Anticipation’ at Principal Place, is very impressive! Could you tell us more about this commission?
The work is ultimately about being human. A moment frozen in time, celebrating possibility and opportunity. The statue in this public space has stepped down from the plinth - their invincibility has been replaced with vulnerability. The idea of the work is that in our defining moments we don’t always have complete control. If we’re treading new ground, we are often in unfamiliar territory and this comes with a sense of apprehension and doubt as well as hope and optimism. This is being human. The piece is basically saying that no one ever has all the answers, not even our heroes. The piece is a hand sketch brought to life in steel. It was an amazing project to work on from concept, all the way through production, to installation. The scale alone made it a super challenging project that required many experts in many fields, but it’s one I am really proud of and I hope resonates with everyone that comes into contact with it. It is also very special for me as it is my first large scale permanent public work and is situated very close to my studio.
Has your entrepreneurial background influenced your art career?
For sure - although my entrepreneurial journey actually came as a result of the artwork, so it started the other way round. I genuinely think running a business is one of the most creative things you can do. There are so many moving parts and components to it, it’s like a big game of chess requiring creativity every step of the way, and I like to think of Acrylicize as a living breathing sculpture.
Perhaps the biggest impact of my entrepreneurial activity on my artwork is the fact that up until now, I have been completely self-sufficient without working within the traditional construct of a gallery world. That’s not to say that I would never work with one, however, I have been able to enjoy a certain amount of freedom working this way which is really liberating for me and gives me a great sense of ownership. I also draw on the narrative of commercialism directly in my work so in that sense it has a very literal impact. I’m simply working with what I have got and I believe that all the ideas we will ever need are always right in front of us - we just need to see them.
You exhibited at the 250th Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition last year - tell us about the experience!
This just made last summer really fun. I showed the fully interactive work, ‘The Constant Need for Approval’, which I’ll be showing at the fair. I didn’t stop to think just how many people actually pass through the Summer Exhibition which meant the work was really put through its paces. The idea is to vote on how you feel about the work so I ended up getting nearly 30k votes which was really amazing feedback and allowed the work to fulfil its destiny. It was also fun to watch people figure out that you are allowed to touch the work in a gallery, which traditionally is a big no no.
I was also super thrilled that David Mach chose the piece for his room - he’s one of my art heroes and his work has been a huge inspiration to me. Acrylicize exhibited a piece at the show too which was amazing for the studio, and in a nice bit of art karma, it was a portrait of our friend Ray Rinkoff whose wife Esther gave me my first exhibiting opportunity when I was fresh out of art school.
Your artworks vary hugely in size, subject, and medium. What are your main sources of inspiration?
At the moment I’m really interested on the impact of the digital world that is touching every aspect of our lives. It feels like we are at such a turning point in the human story and it provides so many opportunities to explore, question, and challenge as we all try to figure out what’s going on and what the future holds. As such, several of my works have a digital component, but in truth I let the concept drive the outcome which is why my work doesn’t really stick to any one medium or style. I would really consider myself a conceptual artist in this regard. I also like to think of the viewer as much as possible in my practice as I want my work to be as accessible and engaging as possible, and I think this gives the work a playful edge which invites people in.
Do you have any advice for other emerging contemporary artists that are creating work today?
Always remember to be yourself. This is the thing you have that no-one else has, and it’s what makes you completely unique. Use that to your advantage and make work that is true. On that point, I think the key thing is actually making work. With the rise of social media we are becoming more and more consumers rather than producers. Be a producer - don’t just watch everyone else online. Get stuff done.
Also, always remember that art has no rules - I have always found this the most exciting and energising thing about being an artist. There are infinite possibilities…
What exciting things can we look out for from you in 2019?
I’m in the process of creating a physical space that contains all the projects I’m involved in, from art to design to music and events. More than just a building in which stuff happens, the space will become the art itself and will be a real playground of creativity. I’ve always been interested in combining lots of creative pursuits - something directly inspired by hip hop culture and so striving for that balance is my constant goal. Watch this space.
After James’ fascinating insights into how he is contributing to the contemporary art world, we are even more excited to see his work at Battersea Spring! To enjoy and interact with his works for yourself at the fair, grab your tickets now »
James Burke in the studio, image courtesy of the artist.
James Burke, One, Two, Three, Four, Five, oil on canvas, original, 115 x 114cm, £4,200.
James Burke, 20 is the new 30 (people are slowly getting younger), acrylic on canvas, original, 33 x 28cm, £460.
James Burke, Verified Stamps, sheet of stamps, original, 30 x 40cm, £850.