An interview with our artist James McCarthy

13 February 2020

We interview artist James McCarthy from Florida, USA.

Please describe your artwork style
My theme is 'Surrealism and the Landscape'.
I'm a surrealist by nature. Besides surreal art, I like surreal music, surreal film (both live action and animation) and surreal humor. However, I've always loved landscape painting as well- especially romantic and season-themed landscape art.

I'm interested in the passing of the seasons and the passing of time as well as our mortality. Therefore, I find it necessary to devote my art to depictions of the landscape along with the surreal 'biomorphic' imagery I like to paint.

What's your background?
I was a painting major in college back in the late 1970's to early 1980's but I had no clear artistic direction at the time. I continued to work for my father at his commercial art studio until 2001. It was around this time when I finally realized what I really wanted to express in art.

How long have you been an artist?
I've been an active painter since 1999.

Who or what are your biggest influences?
I've always liked science fiction and fantasy but I also love the beauty of nature. I also like to listen to 'mindscape' music such as prog rock, New Age, psychedelic, medieval and certain classical music- long pieces that help me imagine landscapes and come up with ideas. In visual art my favorite painter is Hieronymus Bosch who is a big influence on my style as well as the surrealists such as Max Ernst.

How have you developed your career?
I've sold my paintings primarily online. I belonged to a few local galleries. too. I had some success with them but galleries come and go where I live.

Which current art world trends are you following?
I don't really care about trends. I paint what I want.

Where do you do your work?
Here at my home. I have a room set up as a studio where I do research, sketch and lay out my paintings. However, I do the actual painting on an easel in my bedroom.

What do you feel is the role of the artist in society?
To make the world more interesting, a little less ugly and to show people what the imagination can do.
What techniques / mediums do you use?
Oil on canvas. I paint in detail starting at the top of the canvas and gradually work down going from left to right. At the end I come back and tweak a few areas.

Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it is executed?

The subject- though I'm also interested in combining vibrant colors with one another when I can.

How do you feel when you are letting your emotions loose on the canvas?
Most of my work is carefully planned out ahead of time. The enjoyment and emotions come upon looking at the painting when it's finished.
However, having the composition planned out I kind of know what it's supposed to look like though, so sometimes I like create a spontaneous biomorphic painting now and then. I feel like I'm 'creating' in a more literal sense of the word when I do that. Plus, it's nice to be surprised by how your own painting comes out.

What project are you working on now?
I'm working on a commission: two paintings for a rock band who are going to print the photo images for a front an inside album cover. I keep the original paintings. Fortunately, most of the commissions I've had have been by clients who've let me paint what I want for the most part. They just give me the title of the album and send me a few tracks to listen to for inspiration.

Any current or up-coming exhibitions?
I recently won first place in a local gallery here in Brandon where I live. The exhibition is called 'Square's Off' (all the paintings in the show are square). It's running until Feb. 26.

Where do you find your ideas for your work?
Besides listening to music I also like to watch TV shows on The Science Channel and PBS having to do with outer space. I go online and look at seasonal landscape photos, too. Also, I walk around my neighborhood. There's a small woods, a few fields with goats and drainage areas with peacocks that inspire the landscapes in some of my paintings..

Is there an artwork you are most proud of? Why?
There are about eight of my paintings that aren't for sale. They mean something to me in a more personal way than usual. They remind me of the past and/or they turned out better than I expected so I want to keep them around.

How do you know when a work is finished?
Back in college when I was still experimenting it was sometimes a dilemma to have to 'decide' when a painting was finished. What was even worse was having to decide if I even liked my painting. Now that I know what I'm doing I also 'know' when a painting is finished and though I like some of my paintings more than others, I'm always satisfied with the outcome.

What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I just like to keep my paints and brushes fully stocked. I don't want to run out of a certain color or no longer have a brush that comes to a good point while I'm painting. I can't stand delays. Oh, and Qtips . I like to use Qtips dipped in mineral spirits to use as erasers. Qtips are cheap and easy to come by, though.

Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?
I started out relying on form over color but I've evolved to a point now where color is now very important to me.

Additional Information
You can google: James McCarthy- Surrealism and the Landscape. Plus, you can see all my work along with a complete price list on at my profile page (user name: 'Tolkyes'). I'm also on Facebook- James McCarthy@surrealseasons and James McCarthy- Surrealism and the Landscape.

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