This cat's got his hands in more art-related projects than an octopus in a Sherwin Williams store... or something along those lines. When James isn't working at Art Papers, Atlanta's lauded arts journal, he's putting in hours at emerging artists bastion Beep Beep Gallery and organizing cool projects for our city. Most recently, aforementioned cool projects include the Four Coats Mural Project, which you may have seen out and about in your around-town scouting. We'll let James tell you more about that, as well as momentarily mount a soapbox on public art (and let us in on some of the places and people who get his creative juices going).

SCOUT: Tell us how your readers might know you around town.
JAMES: I was born here in Atlanta and aside from college in Boston I’ve lived here for 29 years.  I work for ART PAPERS, I worked for Aurora Coffee for many years, and I bike everywhere so I’ve probably cut you off or vice versa.

SCOUT: We're guessing your biggest project is Beep Beep, but we wanna talk Four Coats first. Where'd the idea come from, and why did you decide to start the project?
JAMES: We’d spoken with Monica Campana from Living Walls about having Beep Beep artists do some murals.  Through her we had a meeting with the city and proposed what eventually became Four Coats.  When the City suggested we add more galleries to the project, I volunteered Whitespace, Marcia Wood, Get This! and their artists to it which is funny because I didn’t ask them to be apart of it until after the project was approved and an immediate deadline had been set.  That was a week of constant scrambling!  They’ve all been very great to work with and hopefully we’ll get to do it again.

SCOUT: Give us the lowdown on the murals that the project has put up, and the artists involved.
JAMES: The intention is for these four geographically diverse galleries to curate murals on an annual basis.  Since we’re all located in distinctive neighborhoods, we chose locations in close proximities to our galleries to make them a bit more communal.  Since the grant is from the City of Atlanta, the artists had to be City of Atlanta residents; that was the only real stipulation.  The artists are:

Marcia Wood Gallery – Sunday Southern Art Revival
Whitespace – Tommy Taylor
Get This! Gallery – Andy Moon Wilson
Beep Beep Gallery – Lucha Rodriguez

It’s really great because for the most part the artists weren’t experienced with creating large-scale murals, so we were introducing a different set of artists to the public art realm.  I thought they all came through wonderfully.

SCOUT: The four murals were unveiled at the end of July. What's the public response been so far?
JAMES: We’ve received a lot of press and through the artists and other gallery owners as well as personally, I’ve heard a lot of praise.  There’s been some debate in Inman Park over Tommy Taylor’s mural that Susan Bridges from Whitespace has made me privy to but honestly it’s not much to speak of.  Tommy’s wall is a beautiful, colorful abstract piece and regardless of whether people like it or not it can hardly be seen as offensive, so any other issues brought up in their discussion concerning property values or ownership or graffiti strike me as symptoms of a larger discussion about Inman Park as a neighborhood.  It’s seen plenty of changes over the years and the dynamics are beginning to shift, but unlike other affluent areas like Buckhead or Ansley Park or Morningside, Inman Park has always been on the funkier, more artistic side of things, so who knows which direction that shift will go.  That being said, debate and dialog are always healthy especially in the arts.

SCOUT: Any wisdom or musings on the state of public art in Atlanta?
JAMES: Give me a soapbox and I’ll talk for hours on the subject.

One thing I will say is that it’s awesome that there is so much public art going on right now whether it’s murals, sculpture, performance, dance etc.  But, in regard to visual arts, a lot of these projects are set for 2-3 month lifespans and that to me is less than ideal.  Not to criticize anything specifically because I know that different circumstances exist for different projects, but I’d love to see more permanent installations funded.  I think about that Calder mobile outside of the High that I’ve been looking at my whole life and how cool it is that I have a 12 year old brother who can still experience it and take inspiration from it.

I met tourists while we were painting Lucha Rodriguez’s wall, and I guarantee part of the memory of their visit involved art whether or not they specifically remember the mural and its location.  When they return, and it’s still there, that idea becomes reinforced and they start to seek out other instances of public art.  Not to directly compare them, but look at Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” in Chicago.  How many photographs have you seen of people in it’s distorted reflection and because of that how many people continue to visit that site?  How rich does the collective feeling about Chicago become because of that simple object?

SCOUT: And now, let's talk about Beep Beep. You guys recently celebrated your 5th anniversary. Congrats! Any thoughts on where the gallery has been and where it's going in the coming years?
JAMES: Thanks! This is something we do in our spare time, Mark and I both work full time jobs and then focus on Beep Beep after we’ve punched the clock and on the weekends as well. Doing that for five years while balancing a social life and adding new projects like Artlantis and Four Coats is tough, but I’m proud that we’ve been able to stay with it and be able to learn and grow from it.

I think with anything, at first you’re kind of fucking it up but people appreciate it because it’s new.  When you’re in the middle, the newness wears off while you’re working through the growing pains and this is often when I see people call it quits.  Finally, you reach a point where things click all the time and people start to appreciate the steps you’ve taken.  That’s how I feel about the gallery in that we stuck with it through those growing pains and slim times for the arts and have been able to refine and enhance it without compromising.  Hopefully that shows when you’re there whether you were at our first show or you just came by for the first time.

As for the future, we’ll continue to focus on the artwork coming into Beep Beep and will probably add some new projects if we can find the time.

SCOUT: Now for some Atlanta questions. Who or what are some of your favorite creative inspirations here in town?
JAMES: There are many, but Louis Corrigan immediately comes to mind.  A lot of people are patrons of the arts but I really appreciate that someone who’s done well in business chooses to give not just to a charity or foundation, which is par for the course, but to actively fund interesting and unique projects.  Everyone in the arts scene right now is very appreciative of his efforts and a little disappointed that more haven’t emulated his efforts.  While I think that right now Louis is standing alone in that respect, his influence means that when the next generation reaches that level of stability they’ll be able to look to him as a model for their own ambitions.  I know that personally that’s something I aspire toward.

SCOUT: Where in town do you go to get the creative juices flowing?
JAMES: Walking the train tracks.

SCOUT: Any favorite venues or places to experience art in any medium?
JAMES: The Clermont Lounge

SCOUT: And your favorite Atlanta "curious find"?
JAMES: Some guys I knew in high school started a group called Concrete Jungle where they harvest fruit growing all over the city and give it to homeless shelters.  It’s amazing!  They get all kinds of stuff too like apples, figs, pears, and flying dragons which I’d never even hear of.

SCOUT: Finally, give our readers the info on where to learn more about you and your projects: