James Bullough : I spent many years experimenting with different materials and styles trying to figure out what I wanted to do

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‘Burst’ (work in progress) – Lollapalooza Festival – Berlin – 2015 – photo: Nika Kramer

Can you tell us your beginnings in art and the atmosphere in which you started ?

I studied Art Education in university and spent nearly a decade teaching art to children age 11-15 in America. During the first 5 years or so I was not creating any art of my own but eventually in my late 20’s I began painting in my free time. A few years later I decided that I needed a change in my life so I quit my job as a teacher and moved to Berlin to be a painter full time.

To paint was a child’s dream ?

I enjoyed drawing as a kid, but I wasn’t obsessed with it like some kids are. I was very into sports and chasing after girls so that’s pretty much what I did all the time.

‘Into the Ether’ – 26×16 feet (5×8 meters) – Long Beach Museum of Art – Long Beach California USA

I guess your current technique has been built over years of work. How did you arrive at this magnificent style ?

I spent many years experimenting with different materials and styles trying to figure out what I wanted to do. At the beginning I was mostly just trying to copy the artists I saw in Juxtapoz magazine like Conor Harrington, but eventually I began to find my own way. I was working with another artists as a duo, and we were painting portraits where he would paint some parts and I would paint the other parts. In my studio I started doing sketches of portraits with many pieces missing so that my partner could fill in the missing spaces… but I noticed that the sketches looked pretty cool already with just the pieces missing. I began experimenting with doing more of these drawings and eventually, instead of taking parts of the portraits and removing them, I started sliding them around and creating these “fractured” portraits that looked like shattered glass or something and that has kind of become my style now.

You chose to live and work in Berlin. Can you tell us your story with this city which is one of the cities that give a lot of space to urban art ?

My wife was born and grew up her whole life in Berlin. I met her in Australia but visited her many times in Berlin before she moved to America to live with me. From the very first time I visited Berlin I knew I wanted to some day live there. I have been a big fan of graffiti since I was a teenager and Berlin, especially in the early 2000’s when I first started visiting, was covered in graffiti. I also realized there was a big artist community in Berlin and the streets were filled with creative people.

When I moved here in 2011, I jumped immediately into the art scene and started hitting the streets with some guys painting graffiti and small murals as much as possible. There are a lot of abandoned buildings and factories in Berlin so we had lots of places to paint. The more I painted murals the more I fell in love with it and eventually it sort of took over my life. The murals that I painted in those early days were a huge reason for my success as an artists today and I fully believe that If I had not moved to Berlin when I did, I probably would not be as successful as I am now.

‘Dust’ – 50x60cm (20x24inches) – oil and acrylic on panel

Washington DC – photo by Rama Van Pelt

Your work, mural or canvas is really impressive. Can you tell us about your process of creation ?

My process starts with a photo, or sometimes many different photos that I mix together to get one perfect image. Once i have the image the way I like it, I work with it in the computer to fracture it and move parts around until I’m totally satisfied with it. Just to get to this point can take days or even weeks before the image is ready to go to canvas or to a wall, but once it is ready, I project the image onto the surface I’m going to paint and then I just paint it. There are no tricks, just a lot of long hours and hard work of painting and repainting the image until it’s perfect.

‘Blindspot’ – oil on panel

On wall or canva the technique remains the same ?

The planning and preparation of the paintings are the same if they are on canvas or on a wall, but the paintings technique is totally different for both. In the studio I work with oil paint and very tiny brushes. A normal studio painting takes me about 3-4 weeks to finish. When I paint walls, I use spray-paint and those paintings take me about one week to do a whole building.

It’s not difficult to go from giant murals work to paintings in the studio or vice versa?

For me it is not difficult. I have developed different techniques and use different materials for studio and wall paintings so I have figured out a good way to make it work for both.

‘From This Moment’ (work in progress)

What would you like to convey through your art ?

I don’t really plan to send a message with my art. For me it is more important to create beautiful images that are technically very well made. I like to think of myself as a craftsman who is very good at his craft. I am just like a master wood worker who makes a beautiful piece of furniture. When he is finished with making a chair, you don’t ask him what message is that he is trying to tell with the chair… you just enjoy how well it is made and the skill that went into making it.

What are your sources of inspiration ?

I am inspired by other painters and artists who are pushing the boundaries of painting. Seeing other people push themselves and develop new techniques and imagery motivates me to do the same.

‘Tin-Can Telephone’ – Washington DC, USA – MuralsDC Project

Are there artists or other people who have influenced the construction of your artistic universe ?

I am influenced by many things. Music is a big influence for me. 90’s hip hop and Drum and Bass music made me into the kind of creative person that I am so I give a lot of credit to that. Graffiti was also the first thing that grabbed my attention and made me want to start making art myself as a teenager. And now I am very happy to have many friends who are leaders in the contemporary art world that were early influences on me like Erik Jones, Greg “Craola” Simkins, Conor Harrington, Dan Witz… the list can go on forever.

Is art a lifestyle and/or a philosophy for you ?

Art is my job. it is a big part of my life as well but I also don’t take it too seriously and don’t try to hard to be an “artist”. I love making art and I am very proud that I was able to make my hobby and my passion into my job. But at the end of the day, I am a normal dude who gets to do what he loves all day and that happens to be painting.

If you could work within a past art movement, which would it be ?

If I could go back and be one of the original members of Guns and Roses I would do that in a heartbeat!

Would you like to share with us your playlist of the moment. Music that you listen when you work for exemple ?

At this exact moment I am listening to a really smooth liquid Drum and Bass set. I listen to a lot of Drum and Bass when I’m working on my art because it give me energy but doesn’t require too much of my attention so I can focus on my work but still be in the groove.

James Bullough new painting at POW! WOW! Worldwide festival

Your next exhibition ?

I am headed to Hawaii in two days to paint a mural as part of the Pow Wow mural festival, so that is the very next thing for me. After that, I will spend the next 18 months or so in my Berlin studio working on new paintings for my solo show in LA next year, and traveling the globe painting murals around the world. This balance of murals and studio painting is what keeps me from going crazy.

Thank you James !

Abou Tagourla

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