Paper artist James Gordon at work in his home studio. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
Hand painted feathers by James. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
James working on his paper sculptures. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
James’ paper sculptures in progress. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
James Gordon in his beautiful garden. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Sydney artist, illustrator and designer James Gordon is, possibly, just a little bit mad – in the best and most entertaining way! For starters, he responded to all our interview questions in a somewhat rambling length of prose, and almost entirely in CAPITAL LETTERS. (Props to our dear Lisa Marie for her epic de-coding efforts!). But really, we do love the crazy ones, and we have so loved getting to know James Gordon via the most entertaining email trail over the past few weeks! We have heard all manner of delightful stories about James’ new life in the Blue Mountains, where he has recently relocated from Sydney, his constant companion Bob the Dog and his ‘girls’ Dot, Ethel and Baby. Our dear Sydney based photographer Rachel Kara also adored spending time with James during this shoot. ‘Only had the best morning ever!’ was her summary of the morning she spent shooting with James… and it certainly shows!
Though I have admired James’ work from afar for a long time, I must admit I have only recently learnt his full backstory. After a string of random, though generally creative jobs (if you can call floor sanding creative!) in his youth, James really hit his stride in the ’70s whilst working in Melbourne at much loved city department store Georges, back ‘when it was all divine!’ Here James worked in the visual merchandising department, and was responsible for all kinds of brilliant and over-the-top window displays. It was here that James’ affection for paper took hold.
After some time spent travelling and living in London, James returned to Sydney, and eventually moved into a fine art practice, honing both his illustrative and paper sculpting skills to produce the most meticulous paper artworks. His ‘serious artwork’ has been shown at a number of galleries nationally including Tim Olsen in Sydney (which is a big deal!). James’ next show, entitled Mixed Business, is scheduled for next month at the Bangalow Museum in the hinterland of NSW, where James will soon commence a four week residency. Characteristically, he is VERY EXCITED!
Huge thanks to James for sharing his work and his world with us today!
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study, and what path led you to what you are doing today?
I originally went to art school for a few months, but didn’t last long! I would sit in the back row with some mates and we’d get drunk during class (this was a long time ago, I am sure you could not get away with this type of debauchery today!). I learnt and produced nothing, and in the end I was dismissed by my school!
After my short lived art school stint I found my very first job as a floor sander. If you know me, you would think this to be unbelievable. While working there I thought this was a ridiculous way to spend my time, so I applied for a job with the late Lesley Walford, a renowned and well respected interior designer.
Part of the interview process was to draw a chair. I drew a big fancy, ostentatious Louis the ‘Something’ looking regal thing and it got me the job. I’m dim with measurements and when I was given my first real assignment, which was to make curtains for this posh lady in Killara, I made these beautiful yellow silk curtains. But when we went to install them they were two metres too long! I was dismissed, again!
I eventually hit my stride and moved to Melbourne in the early ‘70s, and worked at Georges when it was all divine! It had a gorgeous perfumery, gloves in drawers, suede pads to show ‘madame’ a piece of jewellery, couture on the first floor, and the world’s newest and hottest shows. It was all very posh!
I worked in the visual merchandising department and learnt a lot. However I also broke a lot of rules. I’d use huge slashes of torn paper, paper wigs, thousands of empty bottles, more flowers in windows than ever before, live flames, cut suits into segments, and once even used three hundred of the same tie, and a truckload of sand. I loved doing those windows!
A few years later I travelled a bit, lived in London for two years and then came home to work solo. I started doing small events, illustration, styling, and interior and graphic design. I had a great little shop in Paddington for a while too, everything changed colour every month (walls, exterior and merchandise)!
I then moved to my fine art practice and started showing serious artwork in a few galleries nationally including Tim Olsen Galleries and David Jones Gallery. Along with showing my work I was creative director for nine years of James Gordon Workshop, which was considered at the time to be among the most innovative event companies in Australia. In this position I created with my team amazing and beautiful transformations for anything from the launch of a lipstick through to a dinner for 300 people.
Paper sculptures by James Gordon. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
You work both as both a paper artist and illustrator, and are regularly commissioned and enlisted to create works for events, shoots and even books. What are you currently enjoying working on?
Currently I love being involved in a creative capacity with Qualia and Hamilton Island. I design and illustrate a lot of their invitations and promotional projects and events.
I’m also doing a lot of painting commissions and have recently entered a few art awards. I shall soon have an online shop and have plans for a book and a small line of homewares. (However, I’d really love a financial partner!)
I recently also did an installation for the centenary of NSW State Library that enjoyed. It was an oversized paper cut of ‘100’, it was a great project and it remained in position for a year.
How did you originally become involved with paper art? How would your describe this work and what influences your style?
I’ve loved doing things with paper forever, but actually can’t recall how I first started using it regularly as one of my primary materials. I think I properly professionally started using paper artistically when I worked at Georges.
I try to make my work interesting and amusing. There’s hardly ever a hidden meaning. If someone smiles at my work that makes me happy and I consider my job done!
James’ home studio details. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
When creating sculptural paper works what creatives processes do you employ to get your vision into the 3D form? Is it an intuitive process or do you have to meticulously plan out all steps involved?
My paper work evolves with very few test runs, and very little measuring (see my curtain disaster mentioned above!). Only proportion is important to me, and fine, fine detail. I love mixing one dimension with two or three dimensions in the same work. That is, to paint an image onto the base paper and then echo that image in some way in cut and painted paper that is raised from the base.
James’ incredible paper sculptures. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
Recently you moved from Sydney to live and work from the Blue Mountains. What does a typical day in life of James Gordon usually involve?
Moving to the Blue Mountains was a big and scary decision, but has proven to be a huge hit for both me and my boy, Bob the dog. We love it.
My days here have no set pattern or schedule, apart from letting the chooks out as soon as my peepers pop open. If Bob is perky, it’s an early start, with neck kisses from him and tummy rubs for him, and if he’s tired we have pillow talk until whenever. Then it’s coffee for me and a little something for Bob. We walk to the garden to see what’s occurring and then the ball gets ‘tennis racquet tossed’ for about 20 minutes for Bob to chase. We then feed the chooks their daily treat of fresh corn or peas. Bob has some too with the girls.
I’ll then check emails and Instagram, have a banana, make more coffee and get to work on whatever it is until about 2.00 in the arvo. I’ll have a sandwich and then go for a walk through Leura backstreets or in the bush. I’ll usually take photographs of stuff I like and then home to do more work in the evening.
I entertain more here than ever before and have friends stay over, which is a blast. I can’t really cook but we eat ‘something’ and drink and laugh lots!
James feeding his chickens Dot, Ethal and Baby, assisted by Bob the dog. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
James Gordon and Bob the dog. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media you tune in to regularly?
Some of my favourite sites and blogs are Style.com, The Sartorialist, Black Eiffel, Hermes, and The Design Files of course. I no longer buy many magazines, however I’m pretty faithful to World of Interiors.
I read horror, and love spooky and often quite hideously horrifying violent movies. However I do love the pretty ones and anything about animals. I’m addicted slightly to Instagram, and I like TV. Wentworth and The Voice are my current two must sees.
Home details with a very handsome portrait of Bob the dog! Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
Which other local event stylists / designers / creative people do you admire?
I think Alistair Thomson of Thomson Street does beautiful events, Sibella Court is fantastic, Easton Pearson I’ve loved for years, Michelle Jank, Megan Morton is very clever and Nikki Buckland of Paper Runway is fantastically enthusiastic about creativity.
What has been a career highlight for you so far?
Highlights of my career so far would be working with Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin on a Vogue cover, and my involvement with Collette Dinnigan was fantastic. I designed her well-known logo.
I was also thrilled to bits with my Love 2 Death show in Hong Kong two years ago. A show of lighthearted images of skeletons embellished with jewellery, feathers, safety pins and stuff. It was a sell out!
Beautiful intricate white paper sculptures by James Gordon. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?
I’d absolutely love to collaborate with Hermes, and also would be thrilled to bits if invited to design for the theatre.
What are you looking forward to?
I’m so very excited about this coming August as I’m doing a four week Artist in Residence in Bangalow, NSW. I’m excited because While I am there my exhibition called Mixed Business is opening at the Bangalow Museum opening on Friday 29 August
The show is in collaboration with Nikki Buckland of Paper Runway, The Fabulous Mrs Fox (a brilliant store at Brunswick Heads) and Nine Mile Table (a wonderful local food genius). It will be an eclectic show of things I love.
I’m also excited to be collaborating with Jacqui Fink of Little Dandelion too in the not to distance future!
Studio details. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.
Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?
I loved living in Darling Point and have also enjoyed Potts Point with their eclectic mix of people, stores and the general atmosphere of both places. I also have a soft spot for Cronulla where I spent my first seven years.
Where in Sydney do you buy the tools of your trade?
The best art supply shop is Parkers Art Supplies at The Rocks. They have everything and know everything.
What and where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?
As I have kind of dropped off going to restaurants there haven’t been many recently, however in February I had dinner at the new Rockpool on Bridge Street. It was totally incredible in every way.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
If in Sydney on a Saturday morning I’d be at the Potts Point markets and then breakfasting at Rushcutters Bay with Bob and a pal or two.
Sydney’s best kept secret?
Sydney has so many secrets! I always like to visit the bronze sculpture in Centennial Park that depicts a football player. It is mounted on a plinth embellished with hundreds of adorable babies playing football. The entire thing is surrounded by lions holding a chain fence. I think, perhaps, that not many realise how charming it is.