James Roper: The Billowing Restraint

by Nathan SpoorPosted on

Across the pond there lives a fascinating visualist by the name of James Roper. His work achieves a level of active resonance rarely seen on a two-dimensional plane, yet manages to hold its own regardless of time or tide. Join us as we gain rare access to one of the more brilliant and elusive residents of Manchester’s very productive and chilled corridors.

Intricate. Explosive. Fantastic… just a few words to inadequately describe the engaging works of English painter James Roper. On first view, James’ energetic visuals explode from their expertly painted surfaces. And on each subsequent return to viewing, his work remains as defiant and articulate as each intelligent stroke implies. Not to be confined to being known as a painter, James is also well versed in many other aspects of the art game. He talks with us about finishing his latest film project, the joys of making a living and pursuing his art in the frigid confines of his Manchester studio.****************************************************

Who are you, where are you, how did you get there?

James Roper. I’m answering these questions whilst invigilating in a gallery (part-time job). I walked, it took about 20 minutes.


Deep structure dispersal – acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm / 47 x 47 in

Did you attend an art school? And if so, what happened after you moved on? If not, tell us how you became so focused on your work.

Yes, but I don’t think art school focuses you, you have to do that yourself. Even more so once you leave. The aim shifts from ‘What grade will I get?’ to ‘Will I have enough money to pay the bills?’. That choice between getting a full time job so you can live comfortably and struggling as an artist sorts the men from the boys. I was lucky enough to get some commissioned work after I left, luck plays a big part in being an artist but it only comes about if you work your ass off.


Initial sketch for Conception of the Unfolding Implicate


Detail of Photoshop sketch for Deep structure dispersal

How did you arrive at your present visual medium?

My main medium I use is acrylic on canvas which I’ve been working with since high school. It suited the block colour style that I picked up from watching Japanese animation from which I then went on to directly collage into the work in my ‘Hypermass’ series. Sometimes my ideas find clearer expression through different mediums though so I also do drawing, sculpture, film etc.


Ataxic Reversal – acrylic on canvas, 118 x 100 cm / 46 x 39 in

What goes into your process? My guts via my brain. Although my process is quite methodical my intention with the work is to incite in the viewer the same feelings and ideas that inform the work. I think if I didn’t filter those feelings and ideas through a process and directly expressed them the work would be highly self indulgent and I wouldn’t be able to communicate anything successfully. Paradoxically the indirect process produces a more direct correlation to the initial feelings or ideas. The process consists of collaging found imagery, from a variety of sources, distorting and adjusting the form and colour of each selected part within Photoshop, and letting the composition dictate it’s own growth around a loosely defined idea or narrative. Further adjustments and decisions are made during painting.


In the studio – color swatch precision matching skills

Are there any thoughts or psychologies that you feel are strongly present in your work?

I’m not sure I can put my finger on specifically what the work is about as a whole as it contains a lot of disparate ideas and subjects. I tend to let my subconscious work away on it’s own to a degree and I can only really consciously see specifics after I look back at what I’ve done. I seem to gravitate towards religious ideas and imagery but I’m equally repelled by them. To paraphrase Picasso (talking on art) religion deals with lies that are trying to reveal truth’s, but those that believe the lies as the Truth and not just pointers to it get entangled in a complex distortion which I find extremely fascinating. The idea of inverting energy that you would otherwise express in the way those who live a monastic life do is analogous to how I work. The restriction of desire and it’s eventual expression – restraint and release – manifests in my work in the billowing clouds, gushing liquids and expressive body parts. I’m very restrained in my everyday life but it all gets expelled into my work, I think if I was more outgoing my work wouldn’t be as vital. I always compare it to putting your thumb over a tap (faucet?), in limiting the stream it becomes more intense.


The studio proper – as tidy and organized as it is, that heater so close to the seat makes for a cold reality

What pastimes do you enjoy?

I love going to the cinema and reading and when I’ve got time hiking. I spend far too much time on the Internet as I’m a bit of an information junkie, I know very little about a lot of subjects which isn’t very useful really. My free time has recently been dominated by work on a short film which I co-wrote and did the production design for. I have been trying my hand at writing screenplays since high school and still use the form beyond my painting to escape into, I love coming up with characters and plot. It’s been amazing to have recently worked on something that has actually come off the page and been produced.


Sumbebekos – pencil on paper, 59 x 42 cm / 23 x 16.5 in

Do you read much, or write on any subject?

I write a lot in my notebooks, I tend not to do sketches or preparatory drawings. I’d like to pull all my notes together into an essay or some other form, I’ve already started doing this within the statement on my website which I’m constantly expanding on. They also get fed into the screenplays I write.

I read as much as I can, I love J.G. Ballard and Brett Easton Ellis and what there is of Jeffrey Eugenides. The best authors are ones that evoke a sort of synesthesia, when I read ‘Crash’ by Ballard it some how penetrated deep into my guts and with ‘The Virgin Suicides’ (I must have read it 5 times now) it slowly exudes a sort of heady mist. With non-fiction I read a lot of books on psychology and Zen, especially the books of Steve Hagen and Brad Warner.


‘Into the Fold’ installation – 2005-2008

When you’re not making art, what do you fill your time or mind with?

I can’t really delineate when I stop and start working on my art, ideas are always forming ‘away from the easel’. I have a very analytical mind and I’m always trying to deconstruct what I experience to get to the core of what is happening or how I am constructing things in my head. Similar to the act of drawing where you deconstruct an object in order to understand it so you can reconstruct it on the page. I have a strange fascination with the superficial world of Hollywood, celebrity, and fashion which, as with religion, can equally repulse me. The workings of how and why it manifests both psychologically and socially are complex and intriguing and there are hidden depths to the seemingly shallow surfaces. Adversley with religion you realise on analysis the apparent depths are actually much shallower and more superficial than they at first seem. Once you analyse things you see all the peaks and troughs, all the hierarchies such as low art and high art all seem to flatten out.


Devotion (degree show installation) – 2005

Are there any strong influences on your work, on your life?

Zen has had an extremely subtle yet profound effect on my life. I find the word ‘Buddhism’ makes me cringe though and if anyone ever hears me call myself a Buddhist they have my express permission to bitch slap me (and I might bitch slap you if you use the word ‘spiritual’). I recently started getting into the work of Francis Bacon again, and along with novels such as ‘Crash’ by Ballard, certain films and pieces of music, I find art that works on a visceral level and really gets into your bones pushes me to work at making something that does the same.


Devotion – Making on average ten per day, everyday, for three years, Devotion consists of approximately 10,000 origami flowers, 2002-2005

Do you feel that sleep or meditation, or some element of importance fuels your creativity? I find desire fuels my creativity and the need to express it and satisfy it, although I can never satisfy it, especially indirectly through my art. That’s what pushes me to keep painting regardless of the futility of it. It also comes from a need to connect with people as directly as possible. Very rarely do we do this as we always seem to put up barriers between each other, even ones that are apparently intended to be connections to others i.e. clothing, opinions, beliefs. Art is, or should be, a universal form of communication. If it is caught up in fads or fashions it doesn’t last to long and doesn’t really get under your skin.


Devotion (mandala) – 2005

What is your method of arriving at your initial or final visualization of your work?

The work needs to optically kick you in the metaphorical gonads. It needs to have a kind of balance to it and strangely that balance comes from a kind of imbalance. I try and guide the viewers eye around the canvas so there gaze is constantly moving across the painting. It’s hard to achieve all this as I see the work from initial conception I am somewhat jaded by it even before the painting process begins, but that can help in that I am constantly trying to better the work at every stage to make it feel fresh.


The Involuted Submergent – acrylic on canvas, 60 x 80 cm / 24 x 31 in

Do you feel that text helps or hinders a piece of art?

It depends on the viewer. It’s better that I write about the work as the viewer can always ignore it if they choose. But I think they miss out on a lot if they don’t or if they choose to dismiss it as ‘art speak’, I see it as being just as important as the work itself as a form of expression. The text is another chance to communicate what you’re trying to do in the work and should work on the viewer just as effectively as the work itself, again it depends on the person as to whether that works. I find dry academic writing can drain all the life out and equally a badly written text can be detrimental to the way people view the work. The text should be another aspect to the work not simply a description or simple explanation, and if your work is bad to begin with it doesn’t make it any better.


Rubberneck – pencil on paper, 42 x 59 cm / 16.5 x 23 in

How often do you actively search for source materials or inspiration? If so, how do you go about it?

I am obsessed with trawling the internet for ideas and images, in fact I have to actively stop myself otherwise I’d never actually use it to create work! I’m always trying to find parts of images that trigger something optically. It usually consists of an object or structure, whether it be a crashed car or a form of clothing that has an extreme structural density, a sense of exaggerated form which provokes an almost physical sensation (I explain this on my website as ‘peak shift’). The best example of this is in the images of high end pornography where they are basically trying to take an extreme physical sensation experienced in reality through all of the senses and channel it through a single sense with an image (visual) or two senses in a video (visual and aural). In order to do this the forms must be ‘more real than real’ in order to jump off the page or out of the screen and exert the most effective sensation in the viewer. This is the same with the airbrushing of models in magazines. If you met a model in real life with no make up on they would still be beautiful but as soon as you photograph them, lending whatever is within that frame a sense of importance, the standards change and everything has to be heightened to translate that primary reality into it’s secondary form (I find people who complain about airbrushing insufferable). Again, lies that reveal truths.


The Ecstasy of Nikki Benz – mixed media on paper, 29.5 x 42 cm / 12 x 17 in

Do you typically work on one piece, a few, a series, etc?

One piece at a time but as I’m working on one painting/drawing I’m usually composing the next one as well. I do this because I want each piece to progress on from the next rather than have a few pieces that look homogeneous.


As if from nowhere – acrylic on board, approx. 250 x 200 cm / 98 x 79 in

Tell us a story that might be interesting, or relate to your growth as an artist or as a human being (as if there’s a way to separate the two).

Unfortunately I have no stories, my life is beyond boring. I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs, I hate going out, I’ve never even been abroad. It’s best if you ignore me and look at my work.


Occipital Prolapse – acrylic on canvas, 90 x 67 cm / 35 x 26 in

Any advice for the younger generation of artists or individuals wanting to pursue the arts?

Be original. Be your own worst critic and listen to others criticism, you don’t learn if you think you’re doing everything right. Dedicate yourself fully to your art, don’t take up valuable studio space if you intend on doing it half-heartedly. Don’t be part of the art school fashion parade, the ones who succeed spend their time being artists not trying to look or talk like one. Don’t self indulge but try and truly affect people (there’s nothing worst than passive art), but don’t use cheap shocks or clichéd attempts at beauty to achieve it. Look at as much art as possible, and don’t ignore the old masters. As an artist living today you have via the internet the most expansive database ever on which to discover new art and ideas, use it. And, just because Francis Bacon was a drunk doesn’t mean drinking will make you paint like Francis Bacon. He was a painting genius, you’re not.


Hard at work – the title for the picture is “Me at work in my cold studio,” which would explain working with gloves and sweaters. I suspect he’s only shedding the hood for the picture perhaps? Manchester = cold, yet productive

Do you have any special powers?

No, and if you meet some spiritual guru that says they do they’re a big fat liar.


And with that, James leaves us with this sketch for his erotically and organically cosmic rupturing “Cytherea Explicates the Enfolded.” Many thanks, James.

-Brought to you by Nathan Spoor

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