Searching for Something

Artist Roi James' journey through landscapes, abstracts, figures, and more

<i>Evening Calm</i>, by Roi James
Evening Calm, by Roi James

When an artist does one thing well, the temptation for him or her is to keep at that one thing, especially if it sells. In which case, Roi James must be awfully tempted to paint nothing but representational works. The landscapes he renders on canvas are lush and atmospheric, his human figures richly detailed and warm, and they've been quite successful for the artist. But James isn't keeping to that one thing. The Austin artist is also exploring an abstract painterly series and a geometric assemblage series, and both are as highly polished as his bread-and-butter landscapes and figurative works. He spoke with the Chronicle in advance of his open studio event this week.

Austin Chronicle: You have some exciting new work in your studio right now. There are a lot of different streams: You've been working on these landscapes and figurative pieces, and now there are abstract paintings and the new Constructs series. [audio-1]

Roi James: For a long time I thought that I'd eventually settle down and that there would be one consistent thing that came out, and that would be me. But then I realized that I was an artist who worked in a lot of different voices, and that that was okay. I crave discipline – especially living this lifestyle! The traditional work keeps me grounded in discipline – it's not a very spontaneous type of work. The Constructs tend to be more fun and playful.

AC: We were talking earlier about pattern; there's a Byzantine icon in your collection, and I was comparing the pattern in that type of work to some of your new stuff.

RJ: The new pieces are so much about pattern. Small pieces linked together to create a large effect – it almost creates a euphoric experience, a core visceral sensation. And I have the same sort of reaction to these pieces as to the icons, so I know there's something true about that. [video-1]

AC: What about the abstract paintings?

RJ: Well, pattern is obviously part of them, too. In these it's more organic. They almost have a microscope aspect to them. Biomorphic abstraction, I think, is a phrase that's been used. And even in the really geometric pieces, there's a sense of atmosphere, a sense of something that feels man-made juxtaposed with something that feels organic.

AC: This is something that really relates to the landscapes. The atmosphere is so important, and there's a sense of the ideal – I almost want to use the word "utopian." I see it in the symmetry of the compositions and in the polished sense of completion.

RJ: I'm definitely searching for something, and that journey shows up in my art. I look for a sense of harmony and balance. I think that part of the world is as real and valid as anything else, but there's so much that diverts our attention from it. [audio-2]

AC: It's really courageous of you to buck the pressure that is put on artists to come up with one particular series that sells well and then to do only that. How does it make you feel to honor the urge to experiment, given that you've been so successful with your representational work?

RJ: I feel really blessed. ... I know so many artists that are struggling for the kind of freedom that I have. And I realize it may be only temporary, so I try to make the most of it. I don't want to look back on my life and think that at one time I was living in this wonderful freedom and I didn't take advantage of it. end story

Roi James has an open studio event Saturday, Nov. 20, 11am-5pm, at 5705 Shoal Creek Blvd. He'll give a talk at 2pm. For more information, call 371-9057.

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Roi James

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