James Kingman is a London-based contemporary artist, renowned for his lovingly-rendered screen prints of pop culture icons, including Madonna, Biggie Smalls and Elvis Presley.
James was brought up in Camden but works out of a studio in Catford. His career has seen him work for major creative agencies and household brand names.
His work often contains hand-crafted halftones, typefaces and other bespoke elements in acrylic pen - making each piece of his work unique in their own right. Recently James visited Electric to drop off some of his amazing work to add to our collection. And while he was here, we asked him a few probing questions.
Can you remember the first thing you ever painted or made as a kid that ended up being pinned up at home?
I don’t remember anything specific that went on the fridge door as a child to be honest. I remember winning a child art competition when I was 5 though…at least I think I won. The competition was held in a local library and they gave me a box made of shells as a prize - Unless they just gave that shell box to shut me up due to having a tantrum because I didn’t win! Actually the latter is beginning to sound like a more believable truth. My whole life is a lie!
One time I do remember though was when I was 3-4 years old, I drew I huuuuuge love heart on my older sister’s bedroom door. It was magnificent - at least I thought it was. My mum and my sister didn’t agree. Who doesn’t like love hearts for crying out loud?
We love your afro print, Colours Of The Brain. How did the idea for that develop?
So that was around the time the whole Black Lives Matter movement blew up. I wanted to do something to show support and I saw a really nice quote by Michael Bassey Johnson around not being attracted to colours of the face but more so colours of the brain. I just thought it was a really nice sentiment. That was enough for me to get cracking on it. The original incarnation was far more colourful than the version I ended up releasing initially but I will be doing more editions of this particular piece and developing it further.
You're well known for adding bespoke elements to lots of your prints using acrylic pens - what's your thinking behind that?
Personally, I love buying art where you can see the artist’s unique personal imprint. The best way to get that is to buy an original but not everyone can afford originals. So what I like to do is to give some uniqueness to my prints by adding hand finishes or starts. That makes every print unique and almost a mini-original in its own right. For example, my Elvis and Madonna pieces are pretty much all hand-rendered other than the black and typographic layers, which are screen printed. The bottom layers were painted in and the love heart on the top was drawn in with an acrylic pen. I bloody love acrylic pens. I like the way the strokes leave varied depths of colour and the textured brush lines, this again varies from mark to mark, which in my opinion add only more to the individuality of the piece.
The last 12 months has been a difficult time for most people - have there been any good things to come out of it, as an artist?
Well without it, I wouldn’t have been able to get back into art I don’t think - or at least it gave me the impetus to get things sorted. Personally, the extra time wasn’t useful in the sense of creating, that was never an issue. The things that I found challenging was more of the admin side of things. Boring, right? Things like getting a website sorted, researching and getting the right packaging to send art out in, signing up to screen printing studios, other various hoops that one would have to jump through before being able to actually get my work out there. Thankfully that’s all done now, so it’s all plain sailing from here on, right? Pffft!
What do you do to get yourself in the right mindset to create a new work?
Hmmm, I’m not sure if I have any creative rituals nor if I’m ever not in a creative mindset. It’s a cliche but I have always been creative and I think creatively pretty much all the time. I have a long list of art to create and an idea in my mind of where I want to go with them, so there’s always something happening or about to happen. Obviously, some ideas just don’t land but you can always put it down and do something else from the list and come back to it later. There can be moments of creative paralysis before starting a new piece, where you are struck with all kinds of thoughts and feelings that stop you from starting and you can sometimes just make excuses to not get going but you need to put all that nonsense to one side and get stuck in.
Biggie Smalls is the subject of one of your best-known works - are you a fan of his music or his achievements, or both?
Both, for sure. Musically, the guy was a marvel. His music makes a mockery of the crap that is out now but maybe that’s me being a bit long in the tooth. From a personal level, he proves that anyone can make it, even with the worst of starts, given application and dedication.
If there was one famous person you'd be proud to see your work hanging in their house who would it be?
Oh man, I don’t know. You have your obvious A listers who of course I’d be delighted to see enjoy my work but I think having a famous artist would be more significant personally. I mean, imagine if someone like David Hockney had one of my pieces in his gaff, how much of a compliment would that be? That would be my serious answer. To give you a fun answer (and I know this is a fictional character) I’d love something to be in Alan Partridge’s house. To have him give a clueless review of my work that is totally wide off the mark, but also like it enough in his own little way to have it in his house would make me laugh - a lot.
There's a sense of cheekiness in your work - what do you do to relax and have fun?
What is relax? Lol. I’m a pretty busy guy, so relaxing is something I reserve for sleepy bedtime. I try to find pockets of moments to relax, I really like cooking and find that quite relaxing or if I can get a stretch of hours I’d play computer games. I know exercise isn’t relaxing as such but it helps me declutter my mind, which is super-important. I’m currently sorting out my garden, so that will be a point of relaxation for me also. Well, when I get past the back-breaking, heavy landscaping parts that is.
For all of James' work available at Electric click here and follow him on instagram @byjameskingman