James Stanford is a photographer, painter, cartoonist, digital illustrator and American publisher whose place of residence is unlikely, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Dedicated to creativity and the fine arts, he has taught at UNLV and UW, has established Smallworks Gallery and has organized exhibitions in several places, including the Las Vegas Contemporary Arts Center.
Stanford is known for Indra’s Jewels edition series, a group of mandalas digitally reinvented that are both decorative and contemplative.
The vibrant images are reminiscent of the physical models of space, but they also have an immaterial spiritual quality that evokes the strong connection of the artist with Zen Buddhism.
An artist with many facets
You have used different media in your career to express your work, painting, photography … Why did you switch from traditional art to digital art?
My painting technique was very detailed and laborious. I used ancient glazing techniques and set a standard for myself that I couldn’t take into the real world.
In graduate school, some of the teachers expressed concern about the pace of my art making. I soon realized that I needed to speed things up in order to make a living at art. I also discovered that my paintings were progressing slower than my growth as an artist.
I was maturing, and learning faster than my work was allowed before I completed a piece, my ideas were leapfrogging ahead of my work. So, as usually happens, life took care of this conundrum.
I left teaching and formed a graphic design agency. This switch demanded that I discover a new way of working. In order to survive, I had to become more innovative and learn different, more efficient ways of working.
This process of innovation leads to my introduction to Macintosh Computers in 1984. By 1987 my agency had switched from doing everything by hand and typesetting on a piece of equipment that relied on chemicals for output, to 100% Mac.
By 1987 we were chemical free. By 1993, I was really starting to find my way with photoshop and my new Canon E series cameras.
All has been a natural evolution for me. A painting can take a year or more, while digital pieces can be finished in a matter of weeks and months. I am a classically trained painter and I still paint every day.
Fusing modern technology with enduring design principles allows me to continue to grow as an artist.
What is your main topic of inspiration through your work?
It may seem strange to say it, but I believe that I was born to be an artist, it was karma. I really had no choice but to follow what was available to me as a child.
I came from an enriched environment. My parents were educators, who were very advanced in some ways.
I had an aptitude for intricate work. I enjoyed it.
Also, my oldest brother, who was 18 years old when I was born, was an amazing artist.
Jerry was a natural born cartoonist of the highest order. I was inspired by him and encouraged every step of the way.
When I was offered an art scholarship that encouraged me further and really helped me to believe in myself. It gave me a desire to do well and to work hard.
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What is the guiding thread for your work?
Human perception, that is the guiding thread. I found that if I drew something and made it appear like a decent representation of what is there in front of me, that my mind had to stop its incessant chattering and I could then perceive without filters how things actually appear.
Nothing like several hours of life drawing every day to quiet the discursive thinking of the left brain.
Remember, the left brain can’t draw. Silencing the judges and the voices of criticism in the mind is the thread.
Like Thomas Eakins espoused, find out what interests you and do it.
Paint it, sculpt it, make it into a wallet. Just do it if you have to.
I had no choice but to make art.
“Digital art is for me a tool of expediency”
What software do you use in your work?
I use Photoshop. Occasionally I have to use Illustrator, but my love affair is with Photoshop.
When you started presenting your digital work, how was it perceived in the art community?
Some art critics say that « digital art is not true art ».
When I first started showing my Indra’s Jewels pieces, I got lots of merely this and merely that.
He merely presses a button and his image appears. As if computers were magic.
Some who weren’t aware of my traditional studio art skills would say things like, “It is merely a filter application.” This is the magic computer syndrome.
Well, I can assure the digital connoisseur that I make artistic decisions every step of the way. There is no denying that one may find some inspiring digital images and most people are aware that there are many more, terrible digital images.
The only connoisseurship issue that actually exists is whether or not one is inspired to look at a work of digital art and continue to be inspired by it.
And then ultimately for the digital artist, are these connoisseurs ready to purchase the artwork so that the artist can go on making images?
Is for you digital art the natural evolution of art or an artistic current to express yourself?
Digital art is for me a tool of expediency.
If the computer was not available, then I would in its stead want many talented minions to help me make my art. But, these sorcerer’s apprentices, tend to get out of control.
They have been known to become very demanding. You have to feed them.
A computer is a tool, Photoshop is a tool like any other tool. Computers only eat electricity, and when you want to rest and rejuvenate, they can be shut off.
With the plethora of printing techniques available to the digital artist. New technologies come along so quickly.
It is hard to imagine what will come about next. But, using only what is at my disposal now, and learning about the frontiers of visualization, image making itself, has never been more appealing to me.
I like how it is going right now.
For you, what is the border between digital art and traditional art?
I suppose you are really asking what kind of relationship exists inside James Stanford that explains my need for both worlds, digital and analog? Well, I grew up doing things by hand.
I made wallets in pre-school. I sculpted praying hands out of copper.
I learned how to paint and draw from life, and make representational artwork.
I learned to do portraits and capture likenesses, spending countless hours drawing with ink, charcoal, pastel, watercolor, oil paint.
I have lectured extensively on alternative painting materials and techniques. I have learned to paint like an old master.
I have taught all of these techniques and skills for many years to hundreds of students on the college level.
I have earned a living as a technical illustrator, and as a graphic artist. Finally, I discovered another medium in which I can use the visualization skills that I have developed over a long period of time and I can apply these skills in a new and innovative way.
Now, I do both. I am not happy unless I am painting.
It still calms my mind easier than any other form of meditation that I practice.
But, over the past 25 years, I am also hooked on the combination of photography and Photoshop. I use photoshop like I am painting with a Kolinsky sable loaded with finely ground pigment.
I believe that the unifying matrix is from an art course that I taught for several years, Color Composition.
That course alone shows the art student an endless recombination of elements of composition and design. Also, color theory is examined.
To me, I was as much a learner as I was a teacher when I taught this course. The design is at the heart of everything, this is what the Bauhaus taught and it is the matrix of all manner and form of design for fine art, graphic design, fashion, architecture, industrial design, illustration, etc.
What technique or digital medium would you like to try in your next work?
I would like to try doing some video projections on buildings and I would like to create some LED panel walls to run some of my video work.
You can read our post about Mori Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Bordeless
“Shimmering Zen” or opening of the mind
Being myself a Buddhist, I was really impressed by the few images that have come to me …
“Shimmering Zen” is indeed beautiful mandalas, almost inspiring us to meditation. You have to look
closely to realize the inner richness of each work, is like discovering the inner wealth that each of us has…
Thank you! I believe that one can meditate on these images. I do.
What does it mean to you « Shimmering Zen »?
Mind makes everything, there is Big Mind and little mind.
Big mind is the mind that we all share. Everything is part of this one mind.
When you leave your little mind and enter this Big Mind, you become part of a single vision.
Everything becomes pure energy, pure light. This opening into the way things actually are is what I call Shimmering Zen.
Can you tell us about the graphic conception of “Shimmering Zen”, please?
Reflecting and mirroring images became a fascination for me. I never believed that pure symmetry is boring.
I think that symmetry was very difficult to do before the advent of the computer.
Once I started creating patterns, I realized that I could use the Layering aspect of Photoshop to try endless variations.
I could make layers semi-transparent, allowing a depth of detail that would otherwise be virtually impossible.
Indra’s Jewels was the original name I gave to this process of endless reflection. This metaphor has been used for thousands of years to describe the holographic universe that we discover when we enter higher realms of consciousness.
It describes the interconnectedness of all in the universe. The great god Indra created a net that fills the entire universe.
At the vertex of every single thread, he placed a multifaceted jewel which reflects every other jewel in the universe. This beautiful metaphor set me on my path.
I read, that you use “lenticular” images (I’m really a fan of this technique!) Why did you use this technique?
I was always fascinated by the winky, that tiny lenticular eye that opens and closes that as a child I would occasionally discover in a Cracker Jack box.
The Sacred Heart Mary and Jesus lenticulars were a curiosity to me.
When I realized that I could create highly refined images that transform or flip, that really intrigued me; so, I set about experimenting with the process.
How long did you spend designing and creating “Shimmering Zen”?
Since 1993 I have been playing with pattern and mandala. The Indra’s Jewel’s work has been going on for over 20 years.
Interview with James Stanford realized by Isabel Orth Founder & Creative director at IMAGINESS.