James McCarthy interview
Hey James! Tell us a bit about you!
I'm a surrealist but I also consider myself a landscape painter. I like to depict the seasons and passing of time.
Though I've lived in the Tampa Bay area of Florida most of my life, I'm originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
I have vibrant memories of the seasons, especially the mystery and melancholy of Winter along with its visions of ice and snow.
I majored in art at the University of South Florida in the late 1970's and early '80's but I had no clear artistic direction then.
After working at my father's commercial art studio for 25 years I finally found my direction and began to seriously paint in 1999.
Where do you get your inspirations from?
I get my inspiration from many places including my own back yard, but music is
'Mindscape' music like prog rock, psychedelic, New age, medieval and certain
classical music helps me to create certain landscapes in my head while
Why do you make art?
Art is one of the few things I'm good at and genuinely enjoy. Creating art is the
only really interesting thing I do.
What environment is most conducive to productive times? Non productive
times? What do you think of the term muse? Care to elaborate? Are you
spiritual or religious? Does this play into your art?
I guess music is my 'muse'. I'm not the first artist to say that. I have plenty of
I would call myself spiritual in a seeking for answers, humanistic sense. I'm much
more in tune with science than mythology.
This does play into my art at times through my frequent nature and astronomy
What are some of the artists that you are inspired by? Why?
Hieronymus Bosch is my chief artistic influence but then again, Bosch influenced
many surreal and fantasy artists.
I like the imaginative organic shapes he created and his 'busy' compositions.
I like the classic surrealists like Max Ernst and Remedios Varo as well as other
'biomorphic' surreal artists.
"Biomorphism' is the creation of organic forms usually drawn or painted
Illustrators like Roger Dean and Arthur Rackham were influences on me, too.
Techniques, programs used, substance inspiration?
I've experimented with different media in the past but oil painting is what I like by
far the best. I like to draw but the feel of paint gliding on canvas and the rich colors
make the media extra exciting to me.
Sometimes I'll get stuck on a painting, especially if it's spontaneous. This is a good
time to smoke some herb and listen to music for awhile.
If there was something you could change or improve on. What would that
be (in you or in others).
I wish I could have been a musician as well but it's no big deal. I can't really
complain. I'm poor but I'm doing what I love. How many people can truly say that?
When you create a piece, do you already have an idea in your head that
you're trying to convey in the piece at hand or do you just go with the flow?
I started out doing paintings that were completely spontaneous at first. The only
preconceived idea was to limit my palette to the colors of a particular season.
As I progressed, I expanded my color palette. I also rely more on photo references.
I achieve a greater sense of 'realism' this way while displaying my appreciation of
I like to visually interpret certain songs I have in mind, too.
Sometimes my paintings are clearly laid out ahead of time, some are partially laid
out with some room left for spontaneity, once in a while I'll still paint one with no
How do you deal with an art block?
I don't get 'art block'. I may get stuck for the time being but I explained one way
of dealing with that in question six.
Also, I never run out of landscapes to paint. I even find inspiration in the humble
landscapes of my neighborhood.
Do you have any rituals you use to clear your head so you can actually
sit down and have a solid session?
Sometimes I listen to music before painting or after walking my dog, I just
make sure there's enough food in my belly, grab a cup of coffee and then start