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
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
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
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
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: