Bringing Comedy to Collage: An Interview with James Springall

Big Bill(All photos courtesy of James Springall)

Hi James!

To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello. I’m an adult male who makes – amongst other things – handmade collages. I live and work in London.

What prompted you to start experimenting with collage?
Someone gave me about forty old Face magazines that I lugged around with me wherever I moved for years. I never really looked at them but just felt like I should hold on to them for one reason or another. Then when I was finally about to throw them all away I realised they were full of interesting images that I could use. That combined with a need to start making something tangible with my hands in order to express myself.

Which artists or movements have inspired you most?
Seeing Sergei Sviatchenko’s work first alerted me to the idea that collage doesn’t have to feel overly retro. My main influences are drawn from Surrealism and Pop Art. But I’m as much inspired by a flyer I might happen to see on the street, as I am an art movement.

A lot of your work encapsulates a wonderful form of visual comedy, was that something you actively wanted to project?
Thank you, and absolutely. I read an interview with John Waters in which he asked: “Can art be funny? It can be witty, but can it be funny? I think yes but people are nervous. They’re not used to it.” I think yes too. Moreover, it’s so much easier to make something that empathises with a persons moments of sadness more than it does their moments of happiness, and I like a challenge. For example, I imagine it’s easier to write a sad song that sounds cool as opposed to a happy one that doesn’t sound naff. There’s enough misery out there so on the whole I want to try and connect with peoples lighter side. After all, collage has a long history with humour.

Why did manual production methods appeal to you more than digital ones?
Well, like any sane person, spending too much time interacting with technology drives me mad. I crave simplicity and reduction. And purely for aesthetic reasons, I prefer things that look slightly imperfect and not too slick. So many of the images we see are created on a computer now, so I see my work as an alternative to that. I’m not interested in wowing people with technical ability or intricacy and I like to think that using this technique helps my work connect in a more immediate way. By taking elements from the abundance of images already out there, and combining them so that they make a new whole, I’m saying ‘Let’s look back to look forward’; and you don’t always need a computer in order to do that.

What do you feel your work has to say about contemporary culture?
We live in a cut-and-paste culture. Art, music, literature, brands; all take elements of existing things and combine them in order to say what they want to say. In making the images I do, I’m simply pointing this out but in a more direct way. So in one sense, I’m slotting into what already happens but on the other hand, I’m using this medium to confront a culture that barrages us with thousands of digital images every day.
I want to offer a visual alternative for the modern day consumer. So someone who is so used to seeing, say, an image from a travel brochure or an interiors magazine, sees that same type of image but juxtaposed with a mushroom cloud or a scene of poverty. It catches them off guard. I like the idea of creating new worlds that don’t exist in contemporary culture. When two things combine in a way that I want them to, the meaning may remain ambiguous but the result is hopefully arresting and ever so slightly unsettling in a way that most images we see now aren’t.

Of all your collages, which one is your personal favorite and why?
I read somewhere recently that collage links the past with the present and occasionally even presents a twisted vision of the future. So for that reason, I’ll say Luxury Homes of Tomorrow (pictured below).

Luxury Homes of Tomorrow_low res

See more of James’ work on his website

L'Homme AspergesSheepshifting_smallTrouble in ParadiseWalrus on a Desk Chair on the Moon