The pitfalls of being a young creative are a well-documented affair - indecision, inaction, creative lulls, yada yada yada. Obviously, they don’t compare to the real ills of this crazy world; but for a young person with a heart burning to spend their life creating, the struggle is real.
As this week’s spotlight demonstrates, the best thing to do is to keep active, keep making and creating. Primarily an artist, James McColl is clearly a versatile creative, familiar with a range of different disciplines and a diversity of interests that will leave him in good stead for the road ahead. He also has a real idea of his artistic aims, including the will to get his work shown to people outside of the art world, and to bring together the art community and the general public.
As well as reading James’ eloquent interview below, watch his wonderful short documentary ‘Celebrating Aging’, which pairs present day audio interviews with his grandma with footage from his family archive of super-8 home movies. Equal parts haunting and life-affirming, the film plays out as a meditation on times gone by, told with patience and devotion to an ordinary voice.
As a visual artist, how would you describe your style and approach?
When I’m asked to describe myself I try to boil the description down to simply Artist, as ‘Filmmaker, Writer, Performer and Visual Artist’ seems overly long, messy and a bit scattershot – like I haven’t decided on what I’m doing so I do a bit of everything. To be fair, this isn’t a million miles away from the truth as my approach has always been slightly scattershot but it’s an approach that has given me a lot of freedom to do very diverse projects. Still, the phrase ‘jack of all trades master of none’ does linger in my mind quite often. The majority of my output over the last few years has been writing, though I do have a film degree and have, over the last two years leaned more and more towards performance – an answer that makes my practice none the clearer. As I said, Artist covers many bases. My main approach is often the way in which my work is seen and experienced rather than anything else. I try to take art out of art spaces and galleries as there is a definite disconnect between the art community and general public.
What are your influences?
Everything, it depends on what I’m working on really. You never know what seeps into your subconscious. Looking back on the projects that I’ve been happy with, I’d say what really interests me is minimalism. How can this be simpler? How can this be streamlined? That’s generally the question I come back to in my work. At the moment I’ve been reading up on Fiona Banner’s early work - the text based work she produced, as I want to start including text in my work in some way and she was recommended to me. I often jump from one artist to another for short intense periods before moving on to another. Billy Childish is someone I find I inevitably come back to - no matter what medium you work in, Billy has tried and succeeded in it. I find his relentless output inspiring and energising more so than anything else. I don’t like to spend too long on a project as it’s easy to become a perfectionist (especially in editing film) and everything grinds to a stop.
Do you think it’s important to engage the general public as well as the art community?
More so! One of the most important things for artists to do is to take work out of art communities and present them to a wider audience. Personally I try to make work outside of art spaces so people who don’t necessarily seek out art can experience it in some way. I can’t think of anything worse than making work that only the art world would see – it seems so self-serving and gross. It helps that as a film maker and performer I can take my work out of galleries and showcase work wherever I choose, be it online, public spaces, shop windows, whatever I can think of! With my theatre group First Line Theatre, I’ve created a show called Basic Space that deliberately takes people out of the theatre and invites people who are not a part of the art world to experience a performance; We walk through city centres, parks and other regular public areas not designed for theatre. We have these two big and clunky astronauts that walk through these town centres that really make people look up and pay attention.
What response have you had from your work so far?
It’s been very positive. With 'Celebrating Aging’, a short moving image piece people instantly recognise some part of their own family life in the film. It’s made up of conversations with my Nan and Super8 home movies, so there is an everyday-ness that people latch on to. With another project, Basic Space, the people who stumble upon the show are usually the ones who are most moved by it – I suspect because they didn’t expect to see anything like that on their day out. It’s very satisfying to know that in some small way you’ve brightened someone’s day or helped someone vocalise something that they haven’t been able to through your work.
What are your creative plans for the future?
My main aim is to continue to exhibit art in spaces that don’t usually house it. More specifically, I’m working on bringing text into my work in a bigger way, rather than having so many different artistic threads. I think I will be mixing performance, video and text more as that’s what excites me right now. I’ve just started work on a new performance piece with First Line Theatre which we’re pretty excited and daunted by so hopefully something comes of that. Finally, do you have any pieces of wisdom to pass on to other young creatives out there? I’ve had to answer this question a few times before and the best advice I could give any artist, which includes myself, is to keep making. I say that as supposedly, when giving advice you are giving it to your younger self. It’s hard to remember sometimes but you need to work on projects constantly and not just apply to briefs or commissioned work. All the work I have had success with has been work that was developed without a specific end in mind