Today we are talking to artist James Fowkes, who produces paintings and drawings from their own invented subject matter, such as models of structures roughly made from paper or cardboard. In this spotlight James talks about his interest in working with often overlooked subject matter and the incidental marks on paper that mimic mould such as in his drawing 'Mould' which is currently showcased in our A4 group exhibition.
Image description: a landscape poster showing a detail of a pencil drawing with highly detailed and fine lines creating the effect of mould. Bold white text in the centre reads James Fowkes, underneath in a smaller font reads @jamieartwork21.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and your work?
I am James Fowkes and I have been creating artwork for almost 20 years. I obtained a 1st class Honours Degree from Coventry University and gained a Masters from Birmingham City University. I produce paintings and drawings from my own process of working from invented subject matter, such as models of buildings/structures roughly made from paper or cardboard. I am also particularly interested in working from subject matter that is of often overlooked from found objects such as packaging materials to incidental marks on paper that mimic mould.
We recently showcased your drawing ‘Black Mould’ as part of our A4 group exhibition. Can you tell us more about how you came to create this piece?
This piece came from the experimentation with watery acrylic paint on paper, which mimicked patches of damp and mould. I was intrigued by the idea recreating these small incidental marks to larger size pencil drawings, which paradoxically depicted mould with carefully crafted marks of pencil.
How did you find the experience of having your artwork pasted outdoors? Did you find that it impacted on the meaning of the work?
I was really pleased to see the work in a different setting. I was delighted with the outcome, especially the way the work lends itself to being exhibited in such an urban setting. I felt the image of the mould drawing contrasted nicely against the graffiti on the billboard. The work also took on the guise of a flyer, this wouldn’t have been obtained by simply exhibiting the work framed in a white-walled gallery. All the works posted up together almost feels like one piece.
James Fowkes, Black Mould, graphite on paper, 2021
Image description: a landscape oriented pencil drawing containing a circular shape made up of highly detailed fine lines creating the effect of mould.
You're drawing involves many minute details and fine lines. How much importance do you give to the level of technical skill in your work?
It depends on what is meant by technical skill. Some of my works require a high level of detail and others don’t. What is most important is the natural mark in the execution of the painting or drawing, whether the work is detailed or not. The success of a painting or drawing depends on achieving natural marks in the work. This I feel is where the skill lies.
What drew you to creating this kind of work?
I developed the idea of using model structures to create paintings and drawings after seeing the ‘Blue Minotaur’ painting by Richard Patterson in the much acclaimed ‘Sensations’ exhibition. The painting was of a yellow toy Minotaur looking out at a vast ambiguous blue background. The use of miniature subject matter to create paintings and drawings captured my imagination, especially when combining this process into my passion for architecture.
You describe that your work aims to distil the beauty in low-grade subject matter. How do you go about achieving this?
I distil the beauty by elevating these materials to the subject of my work. Painting them with intricate marks of paint and subtle colour nuances or if the work is a drawing, the pencil lines are both flowing and rhythmical, employed in my own economy of mark making, helps convey my sense of stylised beauty in low grade subject matter.
James Fowkes, Untitled, Acrylic on watercolour paper, 21 x 29.7 cm, 2021
Image description: a minimal acrylic painting on a white background, depicting a small tilted rectangle of green that looks like moss, with a watery shadow falling to the left of the shape.
What one thing would you like to change about the art industry today?
I would like to see more equal opportunities to exhibit work in the main art gallery institutions. So that the work shown isn’t shown just by artists that are part of the established gallery clique, as they are a safe bet to gain revenue.
Why do you choose to use painting and drawing as a material to present your ideas?
No other mediums in art gives me more enjoyment and pleasure than painting and drawing. Both mediums are a natural inclination for me.
What are you working on now and what might you be doing moving forwards?
I am currently working simultaneously on a series of paintings of the subject of Emerald City from the movie The Wizard of Oz and making drawings on the subject matter of watermarks and patches of damp/mould. The Emerald City work involves working on a series of compositions taken from a white paper model of the Emerald City in the style of an architect’s model. I have illuminated the paper model with green LED lights from underneath.
The watermark/damp drawings I am making involves creating the most incredibly faint drawings in pencil or pencil crayon. I am excited with pursuing the idea of the minimal to create Post-minimal work with these drawings.
James Fowkes, Paradise, Acrylic on watercolour paper, 23 x 30.8 cm, 2017
Image description: a rectangular landscape painting depicting large strange tubular objects in ana emerald green, stretching out in groups to a swirling blue sky.
If you would like to see more of James' work you can find more on his Facebook page @jamieartwork21.
James' work alongside others can still be viewed in our A4 group exhibition on our website as well as physical locations around Digbeth.