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Interview: James Gulliver Hancock on the creative energy spilling out of your fingers

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Hi James! Tell us a bit about yourself. I know you are originally from Australia and now living in LA. Tell us how you came to be an Angeleno, why you decided to be here, was it a dream?

Hey there Ted, yes, I am originally from Australia, spent most of my life so far there – though being an Australian I tend to have pretty big eyes for the rest of the world and consequently I’ve traveled a fair bit ( Asia, Russia, Europe ), usually overland via trains, buses, boats…

My mum is originally English and is from a line of cheese farmers in an idyllic part of the west of England – think super fertile green hills, pulling vegetables out of black soil, rich smell of cows in the winter etc. etc… So LA is totally weird for me, I’m not used to the desert, it feels like Mars! I don’t know how I ended up here, when I passed through here a while ago, I thought I’d never be back and now I live here – weird how life turns like that! I came here at first largely because my girlfriend wanted to persue music here ( www.lenkamusic.com ) so knowing I could work anywhere I was happy to be away from my home town and live in another country. Now I think LA is great, so much amazing creativity and the American drive and spirit of encouragement is awesome! So it wasn’t really a dream to be here, but lots of dreams are getting fulfilled by being here!

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When we first met at our Poketo party with Corduroy Magazine, we had picked you out and complimented you on your rad clothes– I think you were wearing a really colorful, geometric patterned jacket and cowboy boots. I remember you graciously replied and then asked if we knew Ted and Angie, which of course, here we were! It was a delightful first encounter. Getting to know you, your style, and your art since that time, your work is so playful, human, organic, colorful. Has it always been this way? How has your work evolved? How did you find your calling in illustration and art? Has anyone or anything influenced your work?

Yes! it was quite the first meeting! I had a jacket by www.peglegnyc.com on, I love it, it is super colourfull! I’ve gotten over cowboy boots, now I’m addicted to Carpezio’s, they’re basically shoes for doing Jazz ballet in, and my how jazzy they are – actually my all time favourite shoe store is in melbourne, Rocco’s shoes, it’s this old guy who churns out amazing hand made shoes, you can customize your own even, bit of snake skin here, bit of yellow patent here…. he doesn’t advertise or even have a telephone! it’s great.

I’m so glad you think my work is playful and organic, personally I tend to over analyze and philosophize things, I really need and enjoy developing a strong philosophy in order to make things, so it’s great when the finished product sheds this to some extent and stands as playful and organic.
I’ve always found it hard to categorize what I do, basically I make images, so within that I do a whole lot of different things from Visual art exhibitions, to editorial illustration, to set design, sculpture…. and I love it all. I try not to restrict myself with labels and just make what I want / need to make.

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I started out doing pretty straight graphic design but quickly left that to work for myself doing more image making type projects. Illustration came along as a title because it really has the most flexibility in what it encompasses, basically I can continue to make whatever it is I make in whatever medium and call myself an illustrator. I can work for clients and do my own stuff and somehow it all gets tied in to illustration, even my sculpture work is quite illustrative and charming. Because of this eclectic practice my work is constantly evolving. I am being influenced by all the work I see around me, on the street, on the internet, on people… but the more I work the more comfortable I get with what I do, the more I recognize what I am and how I like to work, it’s a constant process, and illustration really lets me evolve in many directions.

Over the summertime, we’ve been over to your place in Silverlake where you have hosted quite a few BBQ’s. Great little garden you have and your studio is in your place. How is working out of the house? What around you keeps you creative. As an artist and designer, how do you balance work and life?

It’s insane, I really do go a bit mad being at home, maybe I should come down to your studio and say hi more often! I really need to get out of the house a bit more. I’ll be working away on different things and realize I haven’t left the house in days and I’ve run out of food! I sometimes wish I was in a much more public space to work, but I don’t think it hinders what I create that much, I can be a quiet little ferret sometimes, hiding away making things. I love this process of making a heap of stuff then pulling it out to show people at random times, improvised exhibitions happen at my place all the time! I hate being on stage, but I love making visuals that perform for me!

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You just completed a residency on the east coast. Tell us a bit about how you got involved in that. What was a normal day like during the residency? Are doing artist residency like this crucial in your career? Or is it simply time to focus on creating work?

Oh yes, I’ve done quite a few residencies in the past in Europe and Asia, but this one in NY was quite different and amazing! The other ones I’ve done they typically left me to my own devices. After applying and stating what it is I want to do I basically got given a space to work and live and did just that, with no commitments. It was an amazing time living in Paris, Vienna, and Indonesia. But this NY residency, was more like an intensive camp, where 30 of us from around the world worked all day in our studios feeding off each other and making heaps of new work. We had amazing visitors from NYC like the curator from the Whitney biennial, and other amazing gallery owners from Chelsea. Residencies can be crucial I think, they get you connected to new groups of artists and help you find out about other opportunities, and they are like flexible versions of school, somewhere between an undergraduate degree and a masters.

Did you leave the residency with a lot of new work? Did you create art for exhibitions or commercial work?

I did all that! I left with a bunch of new work, mainly work on paper and sculptures, which I’ve exhibited here in LA. Following on from the work I did at the residency I’ve been making large oil paintings which I’m taking back to Australia for a couple of exhibitions there. I also did editorial illustrations for NY magazines over the internet while I was there, and also started working on Lenka’s latest album cover!

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You have a wonderful collaboration with your partner, Lenka. Her singing career is really taking off, I hear her all the time on KCRW radio. Her songs are very whimsical and full of lightness. Seems so fitting for your art. Your art direction on her newest album, what was the inspiration, how do you tackle a project like that? Because you are partners, did you have freedom to design whatever? What was working with a major label (Epic) like? Were you involved with the music at all? Can you tell us about any music videos in the works? Will you be involved in that as well?

Yes, we have a lot of fun collaborating, you must know how cool it is to have a partner who is in the same business as yourself! Yes I think we’re a good match for her project, whimsical, cute, fun. Luckily the label is really supportive of our collaboration and we get a fair amount of encouragement and support. In fact part of the appeal of Lenka to the label was that she has this visual world already worked out. I think a lot of the time major labels have a hard time with new artists because they have no idea what they like or who they are visually so they have to start from scratch. It’s the polar opposite with us, we’re actively involved in creating the right style for lenka and because she studied art too she is always making visual decisions about everything and helping me with designs and animations too. The videos are fun! we’ve done a few of the low fi stop motion illustration ones which get used as viral you tube and promo videos. The music business is a strange one but Epic is really good in that they really recognize how it’s changing and are really interested in making new ways of getting music out there through things like these cute little videos and other little things we’ve done that are a bit left of field for a major label, it’s exciting.

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Collaboration with other artists seems to be something you love to do. There is even furniture out of some of the drawings you made. How did the collaboration with Pep Heykoop come about and was that amazing chair ever produced?

Yes, it’s great! collaboration is awesome, though I seem to do most of it via the internet, so sometimes I never even meet the collaborators. Like with Pepe I sent him drawings I’d been doing and he interpreted them, it’s amazing seeing how someone else perceives something you’ve made, how it changes through interpretation. Collaboration really encourages this and makes you think in different directions to what you would by yourself. The chair was a one off, but I’d love to put a chair into production one day, in fact there’s quite a few projects I’d love to get mass produced – one day. I’m doing another collaboration when I go back to Sydney at the end of the year for an installation in a gallery. We’re going to gut a car and make an engine totem pole out of all the parts, that you can look into through periscopes and see crazy animated worlds inside.

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You are part of our Poketo x Australia series coming out in November. Tell us a bit about your wallet and tee designs for us–The swirly cameras and the patterns of eyes. What is the starting point for works like this? Is it an idea? Is it design?

I get obsessed with elements usually, I’ll be drawing eyes for a whole week then next it’s cameras, then cars, then…. so most projects usually come out of what I’m into at that time, particularly when it’s something as fun and free as designing for you guys! I am interested in things initially appearing aesthetically pleasing but have a darker undertone, I think the eyes come out of that, it’s basically a nice pattern, but then under that it’s all these suspicious big brother like eyes looking at each other. The cameras is more playful, but comes out of a series of sculptures I’ve been working on that explore this idea of visualizing energies of unperceivable things, like the sight coming out of your eyes or glasses, or the creative energy spilling out of your fingers, or here, the spirit of taking a photo spilling out of the camera, rather than the light going in. Kind of like the energy of creativity in taking a picture.

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We are going to be in Australia at the same time for the launch of the Poketo collection. Hopefully we’ll hook up in Sydney or Melbourne. We’ve never been there, so, where are we going to go?? Do you like how I’m already planning to make you an official Australia welcoming host? –ha ha

Yippee! I love it that we’re going to be able to hang out in my home town. It’s awesome when you’re away from home and you make new friends then you get to show them where you’re from, like taking your girlfriend home to meet the parents! We’re going to eat up a storm at all the amazing Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, we’re going to soak up the sun on bondi beach, we’re going to sit in the cafe all morning talking to friends, we’re going to go to some rad galleries! And we’re going to breathe the freshest air and the brightest colours you’ve ever tasted – can you tell I’m homesick?

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Last but not least, what are you working on currently, any new projects in the works that you can talk about?

There’s always a bag of stuff going on, I’m prepping for 3 shows I’m installing in Sydney – including the Poketo launch! – all of which I have to somehow fit in my luggage on the plane. I’m doing an illustrated album cover for a children’s music record, I’m pitching on a couple of indie video clips, and I’ve just finished an illustration for Businessweek magazine here in the US, and making a hand silkscreened calendar.

Check out James’ Poketo tees… Camera and Eyes.

Check out both of James’ Poketo wallets here, Spray Can Swirlies and Eyes.
Visit James at www.jamesgulliverhancock.com.

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