Interview: James Springall

 Please, introduce yourself; tell us a little bit about you.

I was born in Middlesbrough, grew up in Newcastle Upon-Tyne and have lived in London for around 16 years. I’m thinking about getting a dog. The last exhibition I saw was Matisse in the Studio but the best exhibition I’ve seen was a Magritte retrospective in Belgium. I travel when I can afford it and would prefer to spend more time in nature. I try to cook something from scratch most days. I don’t have a TV (well, I do, but it’s in the basement). The last record I bought was The Truth by Dr. Hooker but my favourite record is probably The White Album (the bit when The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill segues into While My Guitar Gently Weeps gets me every time). I should exercise more and I smoke too much. I get very nervous speaking in front of large groups. I chew a lot of gum. My couch is uncomfortable. At the moment I’m reading Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977 – 2002) by David Sedaris but would say my favourite book is The Old Man and the Sea. I own a pen in the shape of a lobster’s claw. The last two films I remember seeing at the pictures are Birdman and The Revenant so, without really realising it before now, I like the work of Alejandro González Iñárritu. I have a picture of Yoko Ono’s bottom in my studio. I turn 40 on the 23rd of December and shall be doing so somewhere sunny and far, far away. I’m currently helping The Weird Show put on an exhibition of contemporary collage at Jealous Gallery, and I’ve just finished a new series that gently takes the piss out of Great Britain.

You seem to be more a “thinker” than a “cutter”. Concept always coming first… is this right?

Conceptual thinking is vital to me, for sure. Collage has always been a great medium to get ideas across in a very direct way, hence why it’s been used by everyone from Dadaists and Situationists, to Punks and political pop artists; movements with a message to convey. Despite not associating myself directly with any particular movement, I do try to bring ideas into my work, as it often seems to me a missed opportunity when I don’t.

In terms of what comes first in my process, it’s not always the case that a set idea will come before the assemblage of a piece of work. Sometimes a concept will emerge naturally from just playing around and experimenting. In certain work, that concept might be very obvious and easy to understand, whereas in others it’s more hidden and personal. Of course, I have my own unique worldview and set of values, and I guess they come through in whatever you’re doing, eventually.

How would you describe your process of collage making?

I try to keep a very open mind as to what source materials I could use. I find it funny that since I began making collages I’ve started to view incredibly boring things with a new sense of interest. It’s the whole ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ thing. To most people, the discovery of, say, an instruction manual for an old washing machine would mean absolutely nothing; to me it might be a revelatory find!

You know how a painter will paint a seemingly mundane object, like a bowl of fruit or a water jug, in an attempt to make us recognize the beauty and value in them? Well, by using a fortune from a fortune cookie, I’m saying ‘aren’t these fortunes great?’ or in using an old postcard I’m saying, ‘look at the design of this postcard… isn’t it amazing!’ And I often find my materials by just going about my everyday life, and rather than seek things out, I let them come to me in what I tell myself is a wonderful display of serendipity. A lot of the stuff I decide to keep could end up lying around on the floor in my studio for months, or even years, and then suddenly I’ll find a way to use it.

Everything I produce is then made by hand using these found materials, a scalpel and glue. I often only use two or three images to make up a final piece. Simplicity and reduction are very important to me. I’m not into intricacy so I like to work fast and in short bursts. I tend to just make an enormous mess and then see what emerges out of the chaos.

How would you describe your style as collage artist?

Loose yet considered, farcical but serious.

What is the role of humor in your work?

Humour plays a very important role in what I do. I guess it’s just because it’s ingrained in my personality that I veer toward a more light-hearted approach. I dislike pretense and self-importance. Life is, in many ways, completely absurd, and I think art can play a role in reflecting that.

How do you perceive the contemporary collage scene nowadays?

Buoyant if you look in the right places, dreary if you don’t.

Where does the future of collage lie?

In the gutter, but always looking at the stars.