Originally born in the UK, James Mountford now lives and works in Los Angeles.
He studied fine art at UCA just outside London in the early 90s then moved to Italy for 7 years to immerse himself in classical art. On his return to London he started a successful fashion career that took him around the world, shooting for esteemed clients and magazine for 15 years.
In 2013 James decided to return to fine art. This coincided with a move to Los Angeles, where he built a studio practice that broadened his horizons to include sculpture, installation and video works.
And this is where he’s landed and feels comfortable, in a liminal space between art and commerce, recording the body clothed and unclothed using photography, video and 3 dimensional form making.
The merging of these disciplines is what inspires James, creating immersive installations that ask questions of who we are and how we interact with each other, how our bodies are perceived in societal roles and how we can move past these structured ideas.
Hey James, first of all, how are you?
I’m doing ok, it’s been a rough couple of years for us all but the tide seems to be turning so I’m feeling optimistic…
Where are you from and where are you based now? Could you tell us something about both?
I’m from the UK, I spent most of my life in London but moved to Los Angeles in 2014 and now I call it home.
For me London has always been the most exciting city, there’s an edge to it, it’s never predictable, always exciting, always growing. LA is still quite an enigma to me, it’s so hard to put your finger on what makes it great, but it really is! It feels a little bit isolated here, Europe is so far away but there’s something really interesting about being in a bubble, you can really focus on your practice and although being so insular can sometimes cause stagnation there is something about Los Angeles that always picks me up
What influence Los Angeles and its environment had on your way of Being? And consequently on your Art?
The wild extremes of the landscapes found here in California has been a huge influence. Most of my work was studio based in London but since moving here that’s transformed into a closer connection to the environment. The weather and light quality have really help that shift.
Tell us about your relationship with the Body and Its natural connection with Nature. How could a body be political for you?
The body has always been central to my work, it’s an endless source of inspiration. It’s fascinating how you can tell a story with a simple gesture or the way you stand. You can present a body part in a certain way and get so many different reactions. I think the fact that we all own a body makes us all able to form very strong and personal opinions, yet those opinions are all so wildly different, it makes for very layered and nuanced story telling that can resonate so diversely.
The politicization of a body is of course a very developed concept, but one that I try not to engage with too much. I think it’s important to break down pre conceived ideas about the body, dismantle stereotype and roles. But I also like to leave room for the viewer to create their own narrative within my work, weather that be political, conceptual or even sexual. The ability to interpret the work personally is essential.
What experiences did you have in dealing with “sustainability”? And with “inclusivity”?
Sustainability was at the core of the book I just published, it’s been something that’s weighed on me since the birth of my son Cosmo, I should of been thinking about it a long time before then but obviously having a child really makes the question personal and urgent.
Tell us about your new book project “COLONY”. Where does it come from? Which themes are you pursuing and exploring in it? Which questions do you want to raise?
The book really came from all the work I was doing out in nature, placing bodies in these natural landscapes made me think about how the natural world creates complex colonies of collaboration and community that benefit each member of that system. In stark contradictions with how our species seems intent on plundering and destroying our environment, with very little concern as to where this trajectory will take us and the generations to follow. That’s the central theme of the book, telling the story through photography gave me agency to elaborate and create fictional worlds looking through both micro and macro lenses.
Which is the most important “thing” you think you have accomplished in your life so far?
I would say raising my son is the most important accomplishment, and it’s far from finished! The importance of passing knowledge on in a responsible manner is at the forefront of my mind. I recently took a workshop in how to build sustainable housing using simple resources and the earth itself. To me education like this seems far more valuable than another university degree to go with all the millions of other university graduates, instilling a sense of connection to this planet and lessons in how we can work with it, rather than dominate it, should be a core value to all educators. Maybe we need to get out of the class room and off of the internet and harness the knowledge that our environment can pass on to us.
Your work is transversal and moves between various artistic mediums..which is your main source of inspiration at the moment?
Over the last few years moving between mediums has been really inspiring and lead to so much growth. Recently I’ve returned to painting, I’ve been doing large scale works that start with me moving my body on a giant canvas with charcoal, these gestural sketches are then painted over with acrylics to create abstractions that are born from the body and the way it moves.
Is there a particular feeling or wound the whole pandemic situation left in you?
There’s definitely an over all feeling of sadness, I lost my brother to the virus, not only for the loss of life but for the way it was politicized and used to gain power and wealth. If I look for a positive I think it was wonderful to take a break from what our lives had become, careers, success, money, and concentrate on the things that are really important, connections to one another, connections to our inner self, taking a step back from societal roles that dictate how much we should work, and use that time to nurture the things we actually find fulfilling and nourishing.
What are you working on now?
The paintings I spoke about earlier. It’s been transformative to embrace such a radically different approach to making art. The initial idea came from my partner Jenda, she was making these large scale painting with her body and we made a few together which was a really beautiful experience. It took me back to my painting days in art school and pushed me to explore the medium further. For the last 4 months all I’ve been focused on is painting, I’m looking to present these as a show sometime over the summer.
Where can we find you online?