Before The End: An Interview with James Kirkpatrick
January 25, 2017 by Laura Horne-Gaul
Close your eyes and visualize a sound, a whirl or bang of a sound. It sounds like a sound that you haven't heard before. What does it look like...? James Kirkpatrick's work looks like that sound and after hearing the sounds that the sculptures/instruments make you will be happy to have the affirmation. Kirkpatrick creates the sculptures/instruments from old toys and altered circuits often making sounds that will only be heard once. He uses items from his past to create new objects and has been drawing and making masks since he was a child.
An abundance of Kirkpatrick's inspiration comes from images, predominantly seen in outsider work while traveling as a working musician and graffiti enthusiast. Kirkpatrick plays live music under the pseudonym Thesis Sahib, he also has a band in France called AWARDS with an album ready to release and is part of a Canadian rap collective called Backburner. Kirkpatrick exhibits at the Michael Gibson Gallery in London, Ontario. Look out for a travelling exhibition surveying his work from the last decade in 2018.
TUSSLE: You often incorporate objects from your life/history in your work, there is an urgency of "now" in them, can you expand on the aspects of your life that have inspired you and why it was important to bring these objects into your work?
James Kirkpatrick: In my earlier days of approaching a surface outside and dealing with it’s unexpected qualities as a working space to draw and paint on for an uncertain time frame (before you get chased away or whatever) influenced me to bring found objects, surfaces, papers or fabrics into home workspaces over the years. Not having a lot of money for traditional art store materials at different times in my life has also played a part in this. I look to work on surfaces that offer new unexpected challenges. I’m not limited to them being similar qualities to something I would have worked on outside but those early experiences opened me up to the enjoyment of using so many different things to create with. I think that a lot of my preparation and approach to working with things unintentionally fits into the surrealist idea of automatism. Seeing my earlier work done on things outside being destroyed or pulling out of a train yard has played a lot into the idea of letting go of the preciousness of a piece. Until I really feel that a thing is finished it can go through diverse transformations. I paint over marks or lines that once felt perfect and will destroy a lot of earlier efforts to make some arrangements work.
TUSSLE: Your past exhibition titles, like "the way things are now" and "before the end" are intriguing, do you feel like you live in the "now" and do you move on from the past by making work about it or around it?
James Kirkpatrick: Thank you for recognizing that in those words and work although I feel that I should explain that those and other titles have multiple meanings behind them and it’s a bit tricky to nail it as just one thing. In my work and in my song writing I most often present things that offer a duality depending on how you look at it. The “in the now” idea for me came from an agreement with myself at a very young age with how to deal with my confusion on how I am going to fit into the world. As far as I am aware, it shares some similarities with the Tolle philosophies but I just learned about him two years ago. I would say that it is in alignment to a lot of those ideas by default and that listening to him recently has been a reminder of some great practices. In my life I try to maintain parameters to make it so that I can exist practically while allowing the freedom to be within the moment and in the now. It doesn’t always work but it is what I do for myself to be the most creative I can while doing the things one needs to do to get by and be good to your family and friends.
I do something similar in my work. I have learned organizational methods to make “in the moment” explorative marks in arrangements that makes sense in the bigger picture. I do this in multiple ways. An example would be if I set up some situation for discovery during the process, like scratching into layers of under painting within a grid or loose composition. To allow me to have these spaces of creating in the moment that can still make sense in a composition of sorts. I never start a piece knowing what the final thing will look like. I work through it and it develops during my time with the surface. Creating is not therapy and I have never seen it as that. I do reference my past experiences and interests but I feel that this brings me closer to the things in recording them as opposed to leaving or moving away from it.
TUSSLE: Can you walk me through how your sound sculptures come to life...? Are the sounds pre-recorded? Are you using old toys as part of the physical object?
JK: Some of the sound sculptures and instruments are modified toys who’s sounds play directly from the circuit of the toy. I alter the circuits and discover sounds that were not intended to play. I swap out buttons, switches and triggers to make them play these sounds. This is often called Circuit Bending. Other sculptures are playing recorded sounds. Most of the recorded sounds these sculptures play have come from when I am initially investigating the potential sounds of a toy. I record the sounds while manipulating circuits of a toy. Often these sounds will never be reproduced again, so I want to capture them. I also sometimes include sounds that can relate or have a connection to the space or location a sculpture is in. In the case of the recorded samples, I use Arduino micro computers with WAV playing shields or create midi controllers in sculptures that work with Ableton music software. In the gallery the sounds are activated through placement of other sculptures, unusual switches or motion detector devices which play the sounds based on peoples movements and interaction with the piece. I often combine two or more different toys by using fiberglass and epoxy to create a new body for the electronics to fit into. The shapes of the sculptures are based on a combination of functionality and my drawings and paintings.
TUSSLE: Do you use your own synthesizers when you play music live...? Do those two things feed off of each other or are they two separate entities as they are two types of art?
JK: For my live shows I am playing compositions and arrangements of my own songs from instruments I have created out of things not intended for music. One of my main instruments is a modified Gameboy which I create sections of sound in and play them all together as a part of a song. My Gameboy’s internal timing clock is linked through midi to keep it in synch with ableton software and connected to my sound sculptures that are midi controllers. The Gameboy is playing its own sounds from its circuits and I trigger samples from ableton and play my circuit bent instruments live over top of this. I also have a vocal component where I rap and kind of sing over these beats. I have some songs where friends of mine have made pre recorded beats that I rap and play over top of with my instruments for my live shows. A lot of people call it DJ’ing or spinning but I am playing live renditions of songs that I have created. I used to keep my music separate from my art but in the last 9 years they really have been coming together and it feels great. I am starting to feel that my performances on stage are becoming art performances playing these instruments and reciting these stories.
TUSSLE: What attracted you to the zine culture, how long have you been making zine's and does it offer a separate outlet from your other work or does it help hinge your work together?
JK: I was first turned onto Zines through the early hardcore straight edge scene in London. I collaborated on a few zines in about 1995 ish. I illustrated some stories and contributed to a few vegan zines and a bunch that were slightly political talking about issues like homophobia and misogyny happening in our school. That was back in about 1995 ish. Then around 1999 I met some people who were really serious about making art zines and collaborative art zines. I dabbled with that and made some graffiti zines around that time also. Then got really back into it around 2009 and made a lot of some comic and art zines and collaborative art zines. In 2015/16 I got back into it again making a few more comic zines. Although, I made some that are just straight up art books. Zines are a really great way to be able to put out some separate conversations and ideas apart from what my paintings are about. Sometimes the writing in a zine can influence a song idea or ideas that are too hard to put into a song become a comic zine. In a lot of ways the underground rap scene has become like the punk scene but one thing I wish is that more people are involved in that scene and make zines. When I put out the zines with my albums sometimes people don’t know what to make of them.
TUSSLE: What are you working on/towards in 2017?
JK: I have a touring show that is a survey of my work (about 10 years of work) that is starting in 2018 so I am trying to make some ambitious things now that can be included in that. I have a band in France called AWARDS with my friend MICHEL FUNKEN and we recently finished a new full album in my home studio so that might be coming out this year. I have a few exhibitions lined up. Right now I am putting together something for the spring in Halifax with my good friend Dave Hayden. It is combining his project called Parentheses and local gallery Studio 21 with the possibility of a semi residency and performance at Radstorm/Anchor zine archive.
I am taking some time soon to do some work and surf in California. Some board shaping there, and an exhibition as well as seeing old friends and lots of surfing with my friend Amara MacEchern. There will be some upcoming things with the Michael Gibson Gallery here in London. I have a few music shows that I am excited about playing. I belong to a Canadian rap collective called Backburner and we are beginning the process on our new collaborative album. I will be in Toronto quite a bit doing that and seeing my friend Karalyn Reuben. When the Great Lakes near my house thaw out I will be back in there surfing as much as possible with my friend Justin Hembree and the life of leisure guys. I hope we get lots of swell this year. I'm pretty excited for things around here in 2017.