LOCAL PORTRAIT: Artist, James Springall

Written by: Sophie Taylor

Meet Stroud Green based artist, James Springall. Having lived in London for the last sixteen years (bar an 18 month Amsterdam fuelled hiatus), James has set up a studio in his house. Visiting his work-home space in N4, we spoke Krautrock, fortune cookies and Bill Murray’s Victoria Sponge. 

Why did you choose to set up a home studio?

“I looked at studio prices! No, I mean studio prices in London are crazy, but I actually prefer working from a home studio. I’m not mad on the idea of travelling to a space for some designated ‘work time’, as I keep strange hours sometimes, and this way I can work whenever I feel like it.

North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio

So if I want to put a collage together at midnight I don’t have to go and wait for a bus to take me to a studio halfway across town. Actually, John Stezaker – one of the most influential collage artists out there – works from home, and if it’s good enough for him…”

I have a kind of pathological need to be in the mixer.

Do you find living in North London informs your work?

“It certainly does. I think it’s true that we’re all products  of our environment to a degree. Just walking around the streets you realise how much is going on at any given time. I love being in nature, and sometimes fantasise about living in the middle of nowhere, but I also think I have a kind of pathological need to be in the mixer.

North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio

You can take it for granted sometimes, but seeing so many random, unexpected things when you just go to buy a pint of milk, is pretty amazing. Besides, the way I see it, I’m kind of constantly working. I go to my studio to realise the ideas I have, but it’s the experiences gained in between that really inform the final work. Whether I’m in North London or Southern Spain, somewhere in the back of my mind I’ll be thinking about concepts or have one eye out for interesting materials, and it would be impossible for me not to be influenced by my surroundings.”

I’m a little restless and impatient sometimes, so collage suits me.

When did you start working with collage and why?

“I actually made a lot of collages for my graphic design A Level; then I took a 20-year sabbatical and came back to it!

North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio

Why I make it now is a slightly more complex thing. I guess I just have an innate desire to create, and with collage I’ve found a medium that allows me to express myself in a way that I feel both comfortable  with and excited about. It’s such a direct medium to convey your thoughts. The way I approach it, there’s no fiddling about or any intricate, drawn-out process. I think that’s why punk embraced it so wholeheartedly. It fits with the whole do-it-yourself ethos. So, if I want to make a comment on materialism, say, then I can conceive an idea and realise almost immediately. I’m a little restless and impatient sometimes, so that suits me.”

Do you listen to music while you’re brandishing your scalpel?

Not always. Sometimes I prefer to be quiet. But playing music can definitely help to get you into a different mindset.

It’s hit and miss, but sometimes you end up discovering amazing things that way.
North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio

So, what’s your studio playlist?

“Mainly obscure psychedelic stuff. The Finders Keepers record label is really good. They put out these amazing ‘lost’ records. People like the Turkish folk singer Selda, and Jean-Claude Vannier (if you haven’t heard L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches, you should check it out). I like Krautrock, too. Some really interesting music came out of West Germany in the 60’s because after World War II, the entire country was kind of adrift from the rest of the world and it gave people a blank canvas to make something that was truly unique to them. They didn’t want to sound like the Rolling Stones, or whoever, so they just went for it and experimented wildly. Viva by La Dusseldorf, from that period, always gets me in a good headspace, as it’s so euphoric. As do The Stooges, Captain Beefheart or pretty much anything from Trojan Records. I often go into record stores without an idea of what I’m going to buy and come out with something I’d never heard before. It’s hit and miss, but sometimes you end up discovering amazing things that way.”

North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio
I like the imperfections that arise from happenstance

Where’s your favourite place nearby to take your mind off things?

“I like going to the woods, and record stores.”

Would you call yourself anti-digital?

“Not really. I just much prefer making things by hand as opposed to using something like Photoshop. I like the imperfections that arise from happenstance. I think you can feel more substance and soul in things that have an analogue quality. It’s like the difference between a painting and an IKEA print, or a song recorded live versus one that uses a vocoder to distort the vocals.

North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio

I do dislike the way we’re all so obsessed with new technology and social media, but in our digital age, every one of us has to embrace it to a certain degree. I mean, unless I want to make work that I just squirrel away in a drawer somewhere then it’s difficult to do what I do without having some sort of online presence, for example. It’s about using it wisely and finding a balance. Nowadays you have a situation whereby someone may choose to ‘drop out’ and drive around in a camper van living a nomadic lifestyle. But you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll have a laptop and be blogging about their experiences!”

Out of your muses and influences, pick four you’d like to have round for coffee.

“I guess they have to be living then, right? Coffee with a corpse would be pretty disgusting. On that basis, I’ll say David Hockney, Gruff Rhys, Tadanori Yokoo, and Sergei Sviatchenko. I have it on good authority that Sergei’s a big Beatles fan so he’d put Revolver on whilst Tadanori regales us with stories about Japan and Dave sketches the scene on his iPad. Then Bill Murray would come round unannounced with a big victoria sponge.”

North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio
I still believe that the city has this intangible spirit that will somehow override the forces of evil trying to usurp it.

I love your fortune cookie pieces and your description of their ‘vague prophecies’. In many ways you’re like the original fortune cookie creator, a Chinese immigrant who saw the miserable New Yorkers and wanted to hand out optimism on paper, both charming and surreal. Do you think 2016 London needs some (surreal) positive reinforcement?

“Ha… thank you! I’ve never been compared to a Chinese immigrant before, so that’s good. Well in many ways, London in 2016 needs all the help it can get… and it’s almost certainly going to get more surreal as time goes on.

North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio

But in saying that, I still believe that the city has this intangible spirit that will somehow override the forces of evil trying to usurp it. I really like your phrase ‘surreal positive enforcement’. It encapsulates very well what I’m trying to do. I want my work to reflect what’s happening in society, to a degree; but not to bring people down. There’s enough misery and confusion in the world, so my ultimate aim is to try and take people away from that, even if only for a brief moment. It would be cool to replace all the adverts in London with images of things like lucky pigeons, men with vegetables instead of heads and little old ladies wearing 3D glasses.”

What projects have you been involved in recently?

“I had a piece of work called DREAM screen printed by Jealous for a group exhibition that will be showing at the Saatchi Gallery in January. I’m collaborating  with another collage artist called Nil Ultra, who’s based in LA. We’ve been sending each other bits and pieces in the mail and are hoping to put on a joint exhibition on both sides of the pond next year. 

North Four, North London magazine, James Springall, artist, interview, studio

I was commissioned to make some work for Rough Trade Magazine recently, which was fun. I’d like to do some more commissions if anyone out there is reading this and needs some surreal positive enforcement!”

They’re incredibly professional but still do things with a wink and a smile.

How did you find creating the print for Jealous Gallery’s JNY 16 exhibition?

“I loved it. Working with them was a genuinely lovely experience and I think we’re going to do some more stuff together in the future. They’re a very friendly bunch and I like that they take risks without taking themselves too seriously. They’re incredibly professional but still do things with a wink and a smile.”

What are you working on at the moment?

“My interview technique.”

James Springall everyone, handing out reasons to live one collage at a time.

See more at www.jamesspringall.com and follow James on Insta @jamesspringall_

Photos by Mike Barry

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