Getting to chat with one of our favorites, Jim Ford, about his art and processes was such a fun and enlightening experience. There are so many layers to his lovely collage work, that to unpack even a little bit of the mystique of his dramatic style and meanings behind the playful names for his pieces was a treat. He brings a fascinating mix of history to his work, not unlike a collage of time and space, which is reflected in so many of his works.
Roominate (R): Tell Us About Your History. What Inspired You to Become an Artist?
Jim Ford (JF):I’ve been drawing all my life (though I wasn’t heavily exposed to art growing up), so I’ve always had a creative bone. I studied graphic design in college and fell in love with type design – that’s my day-to-day profession. For a few years I freelanced and started making music gig posters, album covers and logos. As I got better at the poster art and developed my graphic art skills, I grew tired of the business – trying to work for bands when I needed steady income.
I had been making collages (digitally or by hand) since college, and became very interested in the medium while I was doing posters. I made some wild prints then; they were fancy advertisements, keepsakes, merchandise. It dawned on me that bands were not typically the best clients (there are exceptions), so why not take all that information out of my artwork and let it be? From then on, I abandoned posters and de-commercialized my art. I just needed to remind myself that I was always an artist in some way or another, so why not work on that?
I learned a lot more about art as an adult. The cubists’ and Marcel Duchamp’s ideas opened my eyes to modern art, and punk rock culture fueled my appetite for collage, so that’s really where it all starts for me. And I guess I want to continue that tradition of breaking with traditions.
(R): So You Are a Full Time Artist Now?
(JF): I still do type art and typography as my fulltime day job, while I often work on personal art in the evenings and on weekends.
(R): Walk Us Through Your Process When You’re Creating a Piece – How and Where Do You Start? What’s Your Inspiration? How Do You Work Through a Block?
(JF): Well, there are a lot of things that inspire me to create, not that I need them. I usually start very simply, unknowing and just doing. Sometimes I’ll start with a color or a concept in mind, and sometimes scraps around the studio inspire a collage that builds up a surface structure… My process is very free and abstract; sometimes I don’t really know what I’m making until its done. I kinda prefer that. When you begin a work, it starts very urgently and builds to a climax, at which point restraint usually kicks in – and it becomes a lot harder to touch the work. And all of a sudden, you can’t. It’s done.
I don’t have blocks, but I do have personal ruts, which can affect my art – or everything. I’ve learned to embrace breakdowns as ‘breakthroughs in disguise,’ whether it’s personal or creative. I’ve also learned not to force art. It’s nice to keep it fun and not make it too much of a labor. I spend some time “waiting for the iron to heat up” before I make things. Basically, I work when I know it’s going to be productive or fruitful … and in between, I think about the work at hand and question how it plays with my other work. The direction of things, ya know.
(JF): It has changed and gone lateral several times. I’ve certainly dabbled more than I need to. I used to be very meticulous and detailed. Of course, I still am in ways, but my approach and techniques for making art are a lot more casual these days. I can detach from what I’m making, and in art in general. What I mean to say is I am freer and more confident than ever now. I don’t spend so much time perfecting or stressing. And there are no big mistakes when you practice making mistakes!
(R): What Would You like People to Know About Your Work That They Might Not Be Able to Tell by Simply Looking at It?
(JF): By the time a work is titled, it’s not as abstract as it is riddled with symbolism. Many things have a meaning or personal significance, whether it’s apparent (visible) or not. I compose with abstract language: passages, elements, symbols, puns. They belong to the moment.
(R): On That Note, I Often Wonder About How You Source the Pieces of Your Collages? Are There Bins Full of Bits and Pieces You Work from or Do You Seek Specific Things While a Work Is Forming?
(JF): Yes, that’s exactly it. I have about three large bins of sourced materials I’ve collected over time that I keep in my studio. It’s mostly stuff I’ve had for some time. Occasionally I’ll happen upon more, but I’m not really combing through modern materials. All of the images and clippings I have are about 50-100 years old. I prefer to use pieces from that period.
(R): Is There Any Reason for Using Aged Materials?
(JF): Yes. There are two very important reasons, actually! The first is that I’m crazy about color. I’m kind of a color freak, so colors are very important to my compositions. If you’re using an image or clipping from long ago, it’s already sort of yellowed from age, so you don’t have to worry about it changing color over time, as it might if you were to use something cut from a current magazine or newspaper.
The second is that history is sort of a second passion of mine. I love to learn about history. I’m especially fond of that time period 50-100 years ago. It was a transformative time, and I love the art and popular culture it created, so it’s my favorite to incorporate into my art.
(R): You Say You’re a Color Freak, so We Have to Ask, Do You Have a Favorite Color?
(JF): I love working with primary colors the best! Bold yellows, blues, and reds. On the other hand, white is my nemesis. I have a really difficult time with white.
(R): Do You Have a Favorite Piece You’ve Created?
(JF): I have several favorites. But the one that comes to mind most is a mixed media painting titled, “In The Black.” At the time I felt I’d finally found my brush, so to speak. I also call it my first mature work on canvas. I was 34 when I created it, and about 21 when I did my first paintings – took a long time to get there. “In The Black” was part of a more experimental year and paved the way for many things that followed.
(JF): I work at home in my studio, usually late at night. Home is where the Art is! My studio space is nothing remarkable, just a decent-sized room that I’ve set up for painting and larger work. It’s a place where I can be messy, creative and comfortable. Though I really want it to function as a professional creative space, I’m okay working in the chaos too.
I like to work where I can’t see my other work, which is why I move everything to a storage facility when it’s completed (if it doesn’t already have a destination). After you accumulate enough work, it needs to go somewhere…
(R): If You Could Describe Your Work in Three Words, What Would They Be?
(JF): Energetic, sensual, cryptic.
(R): If You Wanted Your Audience to Know One Thing About Your Work, What Would It Be?
(JF): It’s for sale. (laugh)
(R): What Advice Do You Have for Emerging Artists?
(JF): Please give me some advice once you get some. But really, spend more time searching and reaching, experimenting in your process. Focus and repetition is always good, but they have a place. Take time to develop and expand, if you can.
(R): Who Are Some of Your Favorite Artists Creating Today? Who Should We Check Out?
(JF): I have a lot of friends and peers on Instagram whom I follow regularly – the collage community, for one, is so full of talent that I can’t single people out. Jeremy Pinc is a painter friend of mine whose work is very prolific, colorful and entertaining; he inspires me to cut loose and paint. Jesse Draxler does amazing things with black and white; his grays don’t even have temperature. I love brutal work. Gerhard Richter needs no introductions. He and his work fascinate me. Florian Beaudrexel makes contemporary cubesque sculptures with cardboard. My favorite artists are all masters at what they do and dedicated to their path. Most of them are history now.
(R): How do you go about selecting a frame for your pieces? Do you have a favorite frame?
(JF): My favorite frame seems to be the most universal for my work, and for interiors. The large White floater frame is the best for me. I have more than four years of framing experience, so I’m picky, but pictureframes.com has a really nice interface for custom design. I’m always excited when I open a box of frames, and even more excited when it finally enhances the artwork.
And we couldn’t agree more! Our canvas floater frames are the perfect modern, sleek compliment to Jim’s bold,expressive work! Coveting a piece of Jim’s or simply want to see more of it? You can check out his website, or give him a follow on Instagram.
Written by Roominate contributors Sarah and Cheryl