What is your name?

James Perkins

Where are you from?

Little Rock, Arkansas

How long have you been living and working in NYC?

For 13 years.

What is your background in the visual arts?

It began at a very young age when my parents and I noticed that I learned things and approached the world visually. I then took formal drawing and drafting courses in high school but would take somewhat of a hiatus to study Chemistry at Yale. After an 8-year career on Wall Street I went back to art school to get a masters degree from the School of Visual Arts. 

You used to run a hedge fund, Thrasher Funds, can you comment on what led you to visual art full time?

I have always approached things from a visual perspective. Even during my time on Wall Street, all of the presentations I made and even the way I framed the world of investing was in a highly visual nature. When I ran my fund it was very important to me to visually communicate that investing doesn’t have to look one way to be smart or cutting edge. Unfortunately, it was too cutting edge and in many ways predicted the 2008 crisis and the mistrust that the façade of suits can attempt to hide. I worked with some of the most talented creative people in New York to help build this philosophy that beauty and intellect can also be visually stimulating as well. After the market crashed in 2008 I closed the fund. By now, I was on to an artistic line of inquiry that led me to question my initial participation and the role of money in our society at large. I took the next 4 years to travel, study and make art, and get my masters. I also began publishing.

You recently completed a Masters at the School of Visual Arts; can you elaborate on that experience? And why higher learning is so important to you?

It seems like we hear many in popular culture talk about how they didn’t have to go to school etc… But it is important for an artist to study, incubate, experiment, reflect, reduce and refine. It is also important to understand the context of one’s work against what has been done. Sometimes this can be done without the structure of school, but the structure and work still need to be there nonetheless. I like what Robert Irwin said, “When you learn how to learn, you are ready to leave school.” Sometimes I think people think talent is enough, but my dear friend Giorgio DeLuca, co-founder of Dean & DeLuca once told me that I needed to “inform” my talent. We can actually create the best within structure.

The SVA program through its continuous critique and guidance from experienced professors forces you to consider why you make images. From what vantage are you making them, is it true to who you, where you are from and how you see the world, is it effective? I knew I wanted to learn more about my work, and myself.

You used to produce a magazine called FLATT. How did you get into producing print magazines?

I was really interested in fine artists that worked with the print media, magazine and publishing such as Warhol, Judd, and Ruscha. I wanted to explore the medium of publishing for myself. It is a very specific and gratifying creative experience. It also felt like some sort of artistic right-of-passage. 

You currently produce a beautiful magazine called MASTERS in collaboration with SVA, what is your motivation to continue producing print magazines?

Each time I do a print project it is the result of having something to say or express. With the MASTERS project Bonnie and I wanted to highlight specifically the history of fashion photography. I also wanted something similar to a Law School review where the magazine project is passed on to the next class. There is something really valuable to creating an object, and as a result of technology, not all creative endeavors require the making of a tangible object beyond files, so it is great that we get to leave that legacy.

You recently did a collaboration with Jeurgen Teller, how did this come about, can you comment on the experience? Anything you learned by working him?

He was the first master we featured for MASTERS. I have been interested in his work for sometime now. I like how he doesn’t make any distinctions in his fine art practice and commercial endeavors. For a while he was one of my heroes. I actually didn’t go meet with him because I wanted to be able to still feel the same way about him and his work as I did the first day I discovered it. I hear he was very nice. And it was a pleasure to work with his team. They were specific but at the same time very lovely to work with. 

You are in the process of creating collage fabric works reminiscent of basketball-inspired jerseys out of your old bespoke suits and ties from your days on Wall Street, can you elaborate on this project?

For this series, Ball Until You Fall: Cutting My Ties I wanted to not presume what medium I would be working in from the beginning. I really wanted to immerse myself in the heritage of Process Art and simply begin with an artistic inquiry that was personal and see where it led me. I had hoped that it led me to a new medium to work in and that the art object would be profound. I feel really moved and humbled by this body of work. Basically the artifacts ended up being fabric collage works that involved deconstructing my old suits from Wall Street into basketball jerseys made from Loro Piana wools and Hermes and Ferregamo ties, equally pulling from my business and athletic background from working out with Laker Point Guard and Champion, Derek Fisher in Little Rock when I was in high school to working with the CFO, Bob Joseph of Alliance Capital, the largest publicly traded asset manager in the US. I have been very bad about dealing with the past. For years I refused to play basketball, and I stopped reading the Wall Street Journal for years as well. This, like Beautiful Cry is an exercise of resolution. Simultaneously, it also makes social commentaries on the games Wall Street played with people’s money, the new dress code that David Stern implemented in the NBA of players wearing suits after Allen Iverson, and the new perceptions of the trust that those fabrics and patterns were suppose to represent compared the to visual representation of the new millionaire. There is also a zeitgeist of jerseys happening in popular culture right now with them being worn by people like Miley Cyrus and Rhianna. I would have never hit on all of this if I were consciously trying to do that. 

You also are producing video art, what is it about this medium that attracts you and can you comment on the visual imagery represented?

It’s one of the mediums in fine art where the potential of the media hasn’t been crowded compared to other media like painting or sculpture, so I find that exciting. There is an unknown to its potential. The moving image is becoming more accessible through handheld devices, flat screens and higher bandwidths. Now we are entering the era where video has not only become more important, we past the YouTube phase of its newness, but it is becoming a new norm. As such, we are seeing more video art, and the collector market for video may begin to become clearer. Some of the best art that I’ve seen in the last few months has been in the media of the moving image. 

‘Niggas in Paris’ is a phrase you have incorporated into your silk screen paintings for your series, Exotic Others: A Portrait of the N-word, can you comment on what that phrase means to you in the context of your work and today’s society?

Paris has been a creative Mecca for Black Americans throughout all of history for those in hopes of expressing themselves as creative and to not have to be called ‘Nigga’. For the likes of Miles Davis, Josephine Baker, Gordon Parks and Langston Hughes, Paris seemed to be the place where Art superseded Race. Where Art superseded all. 

Growing up I was taught that it is a word that informed individuals did not use publicly. But, then a strange thing happened, my father called me one day, who was the same man that didn’t allow me to listen to hip hop growing up and says, “Rappers are passing all you Ivy League kids.” And I thought, “One are you listening to Jay Z like Barak, and two, are you serious?” I told an ‘Ivy League’ friend of mine and she posited, “Nigga is a technology, people are building wealth from it, just like they did from cotton in the South.” So I’ve been really intrigued with the concept that so much wealth has been generated from the gratuitous use of the word and the evolution of our society’s lexicon.

The Exotic Others (a term used by Europeans cause they didn’t say the n-word) series employs a combination of original imagery, appropriated imagery, researched text, original text, and pop cultural references to create a visual and etymological mosaic to arrive at a portraiture study of the word “Nigga” – reflecting on the progress of society’s changing intellectual and visual lexicon.

What artists can you name as influences? What period in art history do you see as most influential on your work, conceptual nature, and aesthetic?

Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Lucio Fontana, Keith Sonnier, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Earnest Hemmingway and Robert Irwin… artists that were curious about advancing the conversation of art through their mediums. I don’t want to make works if it doesn’t help advance the conversation. Aesthetically, there are no influences as I am more concerned about the process, but I am sure they have made their way in my work somewhere. I detest plagiarism. 

Your photography is primarily shot on black and white film and emotionally evocative, capturing images of women in ethereal moments. What attracts you to this medium as a way of communicating emotions? Do you see yourself moving more towards color in either your photography or other mixed media projects?

I work primarily in B&W as I find it less distracting. It offers a way to slow the viewer down and make them contemplate what is really happening. As we are inundated with so many images on a day-to-day basis via technology, by design very few of them make us feel deeply and each day the percentage of those serious images decreases. I am curious about a thing I call “a perfect truth”. I work in color when I find that the color palette is in-line with my overall intention.

What is your feeling on the state of the NYC art world? What is your feeling on the nature of the symbiotic relationship art and fashion have in New York City culture? 

Lucio Fontana and others in the Manifesto Blanco once said, “We live in the age of physics and technology. Painted cardboard and erected plaster no longer have any justification to exist.” Now that’s a bit a extreme, but I like it, and I often feel like artists are moving backward. As I look at the history of art in America, moving East to West, From New York to Chicago to LA, You can see how time, culture and geography influenced art. After you move thru the abstract expressionists to the fetish finish artists you see how later like Judd, Turrell, Nauman and Serra were all pushing the very experience of what art can be… beyond the edges of a painted canvas or a bronze sculpture on stand. Did they kill painting? No. But you can see where I am going. When I look at where art is today in NYC I often feel like it is treading water a bit. Sometimes I think people are so concerned about being included in what is going on that it mutes risk taking. 

As a male artist, what reactions to your work have you had, with regard to imagery of women crying? Are you exploring a universal sentiment or is there something gender specific you are exploring?

Some have commented that they thought the works to be slightly misogynistic, but they are playing into both the irony and preconceived notions of the imagery that I am challenging and exploring through the work. I view those works as self-portraits. The women featured in Beautiful Cry all wear the signature Dior shirts that I wore during my FOX business segments before the market crash in 2008, leading to the close of my investment management firm. This series explores my inability to cry for myself after a major fall, and a desire to revisit and resolve. Is it easier for me to ask beautiful strangers to cry on my behalf, rather than cry alone? I still don’t have all of the answers. 

Many mainstream fashion magazines push the aesthetic of sexual ambiguity, how do you feel about this? Do you see yourself as working within this paradigm or outside of it, or responding to it in any way?

A few years ago I was really into Dior Homme. As a philosophy I wore it every day. And at that time it was cutting edge. I wore it to not wear the typical business uniform to visually communicate a different thought process. But now you can practically buy that concept, though not the quality, from H&M or Zara, so the edge of what that represented is gone to me. I think that among certain intellectual sets here in New York, the non-gender specific aesthetic is considered principal, but as we evolve as a people to better include the spectrum of gender, identity and sexual orientation, that doesn’t mean that the classic masculine feminine POV is no longer relevant. I definitely like to operate in the polar charged world that the masculine feminine dynamic creates.

You are incredibly stylish, in a seemingly effortless way. Who do you consider your style influences to be? Can you credit anyone specifically with your personal style development?

My dad was a big influence. He made it a point to show me how to tie a tie, how to brush my hair, how to shine my shoes, how to establish a wardrobe of quality basics and go from there before flashy. We use to have fun wearing weird things to go shopping with my mother in nice places. We would wear tees from my AAU basketball teams with elastic sweat pants, penny loafers and blazers. It sounds like a GQ editorial now, but then we were just trying to embarrass my mother for forcing us to go shopping. 

Growing up in the South did you always see yourself as headed toward high finance and art as a youth? What childhood experiences, if any, can you reference as being pivotal to the direction you have taken with your life and work?

I definitely knew I was headed to New York at some point. Yale was a major step toward that end for me. The stories behind the aesthetics of the City captivated me, and it seemed like where I belonged. My father would bring me a GQ magazine every month and it was my window to the world, especially before the Internet. It was a very important and quiet time for me each month when I would sit in my room with that periodical and dream. I think this is why magazines are so close to me. I am considering making one of a kind magazines as works.

What are your future plans and aspirations in the visual arts? What do you see as the next steps toward developing your work further?

I want to explore the idea of the aperture in a more abstract manner like James Turrell or Lucio Fontana. Push my photography more to continue to serve my other media. I also have many more works in progress that continue to explore our relationships with money. I would love to participate in the Whitney and Venice Biennial.

What is your drink of choice?

Right now, a nice Negroni.

How can people get in touch with you for collaborations and inquiries?

james@jamesperkinsstudio.com 

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