Interview by Christie Kim, Photographs by Brian Willmont
Greenpoint Terminal Gallery: Your drawings are mostly focused on people and their movements. What fascinates you about people and how do you come up with these characters in your drawings?
James Ulmer: I have always been interested in drawing figures but most of the time, my drawings are not based on real people or real references. A lot of it is comic book influenced. I, also, have a collection of toys and cartoon references. I will often recycle my own images; blow-up drawings from my sketchbook and make larger versions based on them.
GTG: Most of the characters in your drawings, like in “Men with Hats,” are in a continuous motion or performing repetitive gestures that seem to require a lot of meticulousness and patience. Do you worry that you might have OCD? Do you spend countless hours people-watching? How does your creative process work?
JU: The drawings are defiantly not perfect, so I don't think I have OCD. There is a lot of variation between each character so it keeps me interested in the drawing and keeps it fun. I don't find myself people watching much, people are not usually my main source of inspiration for my drawings. My creative process is pretty simple, I don't plan much out before hand. I might have an idea of what I want to do but most of my drawings are done free hand with some parts of the composition measured out. This allows me some structure but I can, also, be spontaneous within the drawing.
GTG: Some of your drawings remind me of Chris Johanson’s paintings of people. Did he have any influence in your work? Any other artists that inspired your drawings?
JU: Chris is a super important artist to me. Recently, I have been learning more about Saul Steinberg and Dubuffet.
GTG: You were a part of an artist collective called Space 1026 in Philadelphia. How did you get involved with Space 1026 and how was that experience?
JU: I became involved in Space 1026 through a friend. I think it was a really great and important experience for me. I became exposed to so many different artists and met some of my best friends there.
GTG: How is the zine culture in NYC and how is it different from Philly? I’ve been to the zine fest in Chicago and Portland and they were very different, from my memory. Chicago seemed more fast-paced whereas Portland zine fest felt like it was more like a friendly, small gathering.
JU: In New York, there are more places and events to buy and sell zines. I'm not sure if I’ve even been to a zine fest in Philly but there are a lot of people making cool things.
GTG: Two years ago, you and Kris Chau did an art showing at a laundromat. Can you tell me a little about this project and do you plan to do more projects like this in the future?
JU: The show was actually in south Philadelphia in 2010, I think. That was a really fun show, people were dancing on top of washing machines. Kris and I were selling drawings out of dryers, it was great. I would love to do that again.
GTG: What upcoming projects or collaborative works do you have planned for 2014?
JU: I will be having a show in Philly at the Synderman Works Gallery in February.