We had the good fortune of connecting with James Gilbert and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
At times I feel that being an artist is one of the least understood careers one can have. That’s why it is important, it is a search for understanding, relating, connecting to other people in ways that are almost indescribable. I recall as a child reading or hearing about terrible disasters, wars, moments in history, yet, though all of it people created and needed art, music, literature. Why? I wanted to understand why art existed when you think during catastrophic events that getting food, shelter, rebuilding should be the only rational priority. But art was there. That is the indescribable part. How do you describe the meaning of your dreams? You can’t, its guesswork. How do you describe the reason we make art, it is almost as difficult a question, except that since we are awake when we make it or consume it we assume we can rationalize it in a more logical way. Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should just feel it or think deeply about how we feel about it. For me, I want to better understand history and in what I do I take history and re-contextualize it so it makes sense to me. I want to combine elements as a documentarian and ideas that are both reflective of the time and hopefully ask questions of who we are and where we are going. That’s part of my process but that’s why it sometimes is indescribable to others abstractly trying to interpret my dreams when instead perhaps it’s more reliable to describe what you are seeing and hearing in relationship to your own experience. Art can be entertainment but to me it is more than surface level “oh, I like it, it’s interesting.” We are all capable of thinking in more complex ways. Art can and should allow you to be more intricate. If you learn something about yourself or others in the process that is the value of art to me and that is I why I go to work everyday.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I make sculptures, large scale installations, drawings and video. If you like pink I’ve got a lot of work to show you. I have sewn thousands of pairs of see-through plastic underpants, created a life size wood and sewn plastic airplane and lifeboats, sewn plastic into dozens of camping tents into unique bunkbeds that form a city, made thousands or drawings, sewn and hand dyed hundreds of unique sand bags to form architecture and currently making hundreds of wood carvings. I respond to history and reinterpret into ideas that help me make sense of the world. I take on themes such as natural disasters, abuse of power, civil liberties, economics, and mortality and present them through my own visual defense mechanism. I try to be light-hearted and add a sense of humor and tragedy to aid in my comprehension of complex topics. Being an artist is not a lifestyle for everyone – unpredictablity, financial realities, politics…it comes with challenges that don’t exist with “traditional” jobs, I know because I have had those too. But, with all of that said I don’t think there is anything else I could do. Rule one, believe in the uniqueness of your own voice and don’t be swayed. Trust that everyone will have an opinion about your work, life, choices but only you can be the best advocate for your voice. Remember, It’s ok to reach out to an artist through their social media and website to strike up interest in their work and process. Many artists will be happy to engage, start a dialogue or show you what’s available.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Los Angeles has amazing art galleries and museums spread across town. Get a gallery guide and start. To see them all would take weeks even if you were speeding through them. Be sure to really look at the art and not just take selfies. But, I also make time for a hidden beach spot to surf, grab a taco and Michelada on the way home to Atwater Village at Salazars. Start the next day with a papas burrito from Taco Villa Corona and hit a hike with fresh ocean views or go into Angeles Crest forest and smell some pine trees, depending on the season you can find a waterfall.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Oh, so many. Teachers. From the grade school teachers that encouraged me to draw, sew and sculpt because it appeared I was both interested and had some skill, Doug McFail, seventh grade art teacher who had different color eyes and helped me push the boundaries of my skill and the first person ever to say “you’ll be an artist”, Jon Swindell, a college professor who told me an incredible story about an unpredictable Vietnam memorial sculpture he made that was a based on a friend’s bull head belt buckle, patterned fabric car headliner, and the song they played on eight- track tape in heavy rotation while driving around in his car before his friend was sent to Vietnam and killed. Jon pushed me to explore the narrative about myself and why it is important.
photo credit courtesy James Gilbert