Poppy Sebire owns a contemporary art gallery in London and represents James Aldridge and Boo Ritson among others. I first got acquainted with Poppy’s gallery when I did an interview with Boo for Dazed Digital. It was then I saw the works of James and found myself drawn to his dark, mysterious paintings that feature strong imagery of birds, skulls, and animals set in the midst of beautifully elaborate nature settings. For his new exhibition “Bloodlines,” I chatted with James about his influences of heavy metal music, bird watching, and the complex system in which he creates his works of art.

First off, I have to say I loved the piece you did for the Tate? Have you done any other big projects like that since?

I just did another piece that was commissioned off of that one. I just finished that in February. It’s for this big cruise ship in Miami. It’s similar to the one I did for the Tate in regards to scale.

Can you tell us about the process you go through when you are creating a painting?

I have quite a few processes when I work. I reference a lot of languages that are related more to design. I look at a lot of fabric prints and wallpapers. I also like scientific drawings from field guides or things that help you identify things. I have a longwinded strategy that I use that stops me from designing an image and instead helps me to become engaged with the thing as I make it.

I usually start with one object or character and then everything kind of revolves around that and that kind of leads to something else. Before I was really strict, so I would work front to back with the background being the very last thing to go in, so nothing had a context until the end of the piece.

It was a way for me to almost live in the piece. It was a slow build up of becoming involved in the piece. Then it becomes me being in the piece rather than me creating the piece. I become a participant, and that is really important to how I make something.

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How do you go about creating a new piece?

The characters, like the birds kind of reoccur throughout my work. A lot of my language is repeated and that slowly evolves. I never consciously decide to create a new piece. I might discover something in one piece that leads to another piece. There are recognizable things that reoccur over time. Then slowly, new things introduce themselves overtime as well, which kind of push out the other things.

The rules that you talk about, can you explain why you created them or how they came about?

It’s more of a starting point that allows me to get engaged in the painting. It then becomes sort of automatic. Those rules and processes become really second nature in a way. They’re used as a starting point because I’m starting with no boundaries.

I have read that you are interested in belief or faith, can you explain a bit about that?

I’m quite interested in ideas of belief but not in a spiritual way. I’m very much coming from it, from the point of view of a belief in images and what that is. I’m aware that a lot of great art has been created around the idea of spiritual belief whatever that is. It’s not something I prescribe to personally but I am interested in that impulse.

I have strong views myself but I am not at all religious or spiritual in any way and I am quite “anti” that kind of thing, but that’s not what the works about. I’m interested in, what it is that makes you believe or gives you that feeling of belief. Although I am not religious, I can still go to a church and feel something about the atmosphere of that place.

It’s a similar thing with music. You probably know, I am quite interested in black metal and all that kind of thing. It’s a visual thing as well. There are codes their, that relate to, or have something in common with religious paintings and gives you happiness in a way. I am interested in anything that can give you an emotional reaction that you can’t explain.

When did you get interested in Metal?

My first concert was Ozzy Osbourne my dad took me for my fourth birthday, which he hated. I kind of learned to draw from copying those album covers. I also copied bird books. The music was an escape. I wasn’t interested in the dungeon and dragons type of thing but more the theatrical side of things.

As a kid it’s sort of a forbidden thing. I remember going to Religious Education class wearing a Black Sabbath badge and having the teacher take me aside at the end of class and ask me, “Do you realize what that is?”
I said, “Yeah, it’s a band.”
Then the teacher saying, “Is that what they tell you?”

I am interested in how people take things like that seriously. The same with the bird books, I am really into bird watching. My dad taught me from a young age. There were always bird watching books lying around. I used to copy them. In later years I kind of rediscovered the music and the bird watching.

I like those field guides. They are so strange in how prescriptive they are for looking at something. They are very much about identification rather than experience. I am quite interested in how that crosses over.

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Well, I was living in London for 11 years and then I moved to Sweden. I now kind of live in the middle of nowhere. I live in the forest. My work was really affected by that change. The earlier stuff was much more about idealized visions of nature. I was taking very simple things like sunsets and really tried to play with that idea of depicting something which is kind of cliché in the way of images but amazing in real life and I got kind of taken up with that.

But then when I moved to nature I had a different relationship. When I look out the studio its just trees and there are eagles just outside of the garden. I think I started drawing from my surroundings a lot more and maybe I got a more realistic idea of what nature is really about. It’s pretty harsh here in the winter. I think my whole kind of reference changed when I moved to Sweden.