Allowing her art to “speak” for itself, L.A. based artist February James is a natural-born creative. Her unconventional pieces capture the line between grotesque and exquisite leaving a satisfying aroma of understanding in their atmosphere. Born and raised in D.C., February James has been creating since before she could remember with first exposure from her mother. Pulling from experiences as a makeup artist, photographer, and tattoo artist, February James’ cultivated a personal collection of “portrait-esque” artwork pulling from aspects of her own identity and the various people she met. In a compelling need to have more control and freedom over her public expression, she began to put her then personal pieces on public display as art.
Her paintings are tangible expressions of the internal ideas and emotions often masked from societal opinion, serving as the voice of “The Lost People.” Here she creates an immeasurable beauty of truth in each piece—a truth the viewer can only find from within themselves. February James offers shards of her identity while allowing enough abstractionism in her work for viewers to find their own interpretation of what they perceive her art to be.
AMFM: You’re a self taught artist, how long have you been creating from what you remember of your earliest experiences with art? What led you to art, or was it something that you always had with you?
FEBRUARY JAMES: I’m an artist. I did not have any formal training to call myself an artist. I did not go to any technical school for artistry. I did not enroll, start or partially complete any graduate or post graduate programs for art. I did not attend schools that had any comprehensive art classes. That said, I don’t think schools can teach one how to “become an artist”…I think we just exist. All of us are artist in some way. I’m starting to question that term “self-taught.” What does that really mean? Since I came out of the womb I’ve been learning from my environment. Since I’ve held a pen or a pencil I’ve been creating. My earliest experiences with art was looking at my mother’s drawings and wondering why she never shared them. I learned from that experience – what we create, we keep.
AMFM: Your art and the characters you depict are beautiful yet grotesque, can you explain the nature of this and how the two juxtapose?
JAMES: It kind of just happens. That’s your perception. That’s your interpretation and I love it. I want to hear what your interpretations are about the work. The work is somewhat small in scale because my aim is to pull you in. To envelope you…to bring about dialogue. The titles are simple, so that the interpretations can be complex. I think we all at some point in our lives deal with the duality of self. No? I’m just creating from my existence; what you perceive is totally up to you.
AMFM: How do you feel that you are able to connect with “the lost people of life”? Who are the lost people?
JAMES: I feel that I am able to connect to “the lost people of life” because I, myself am lost at times. I know what it’s like to be lost. I would like to think that we all know what it’s like to be lost at some point in our life. Because “The Lost People,” has become my pseudo narrative, I always wonder in what way are they interpreted whey they leave me. How does that title “The Lost People” come across to you? Then you see the work, how does that move you? That’s where I’d like to meet you. I would have to ponder that we all interpret things at our own level of understanding. To one, they are zombies. To another, they are shut out from society. We interpret things outside of us, at the level of our own understanding on the inside. Where we harbor all of our fears. Our wants. Our needs. Our screaming and caged insecurities. Therefore, by the time we meet the characters in real-life, subconsciously we’ve already written their narrative – based off of our own internal database of how to deal. I find that I’m often lost and it’s okay. It’s a space in time. It doesn’t mean that I am a depressive recluse. It doesn’t mean that I’m wandering aimlessly. It’s a vulnerable nothingness in time. Sometimes that space is needed to collect and wrangle all of ME, back together again. We can become lost in a lover. Lost in work. Lost in play. Lost in our children. Lost in our parents, and their voices in our head. Lost in our former self, as we evolve to our higher self; our next level self. Lost in our own understanding and contradictions. It’s that leveling up moment where the paradigm shifts. It’s your body’s natural ‘’call to action.’’ So, to answer your question, “The Lost People” to me, are those that are leveling up, cocooning into confusion and unfolding out of transition.
AMFM: I like the sentiment of “people collecting people.” Can you elaborate on what this means? Why are you attracted to depicting people? What about them fascinates you?
JAMES: Let’s look at relationships; the nature of relationships. Relationships with our parents, our siblings, our peers, and our lovers, we oftentimes make a habit of making an attachment of love. A bond of love. We get married, and then there’s a contract…for this love. Now our love is objective and we start to barter our love. Manipulate with our love. Obsess and “collect” with our love. “You’re my BEST friend..that means I choose you.” I’ve separated you from all the rest, and I’ve neatly collected you; and I feel great about my “collection.” Suddenly, two weeks later, I find another “best’ friend but you’re the BFF. The Best Friend Forever, that means you’re wAAAaaay better than my other best friend, and we only do this because we’ve made an attachment out of love. A bondage. Love is giving, sharing, freedom. The opposite of bondage or being bound. It’s endless. In love, not even our silence belongs to us. Get silent. get silent in love and see how fast the demands come for your thoughts. Or the roar of silence. Let’s look at the stranger filled airplane seat, or that elevator ride with someone you don’t know. There is this obsessive need to try to fill silence with something. All of this. All of me. All of you. It all fascinates me. Constantly, and i need that. I need these minuscule moments of fascination and wonder.
AMFM: You say that your work is an ongoing body of self exploration, what is the greatest discovery you have made about yourself through your artwork? What about through your practice?
JAMES: Not all forms of imitation are flattery. That some judge my success based off of where they “think” I should be. ’Comparisons, sometimes distract me from my truth, labels too. Politics are everywhere, the EVERY…exist. The audience is still the author and superpowers still prevail. What I wanted last year I no longer need, and what I need this year, I’m not sure I really want. Sometimes, it’s unclear if the people have come to love up on the presence of the art, or the absence of me. And lastly, my solitude is sweet, rich and vibrant as fuck!
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Photo Credits: February James
Contributing Writer: Jasmine Webb