“Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher were carried around like heroes, but they slipped up, and it’s really easy for everything to come crumbling down. I think I was interested in how problematic I found the expendability of a person.”
How long have you been living in New York, and how did you move here? (James Bowles) I moved here four years ago to go to school at the School of Visual Arts. I graduated in May. And I have a family that lives in Brooklyn. So I was in and out for my whole childhood.
Favourite museums or gallery in New York? (JB) I should probably say where I work (laugh) the 1969 Gallery is great. I am not a sculptor by any means but The Noguchi Museum, I’ve always had a fun time there. So those are probably my two favourites. And then the Brooklyn Museum is right across the street from where some of my family lives. So I spent a lot of time there as a kid.
And are those the places where you get inspired the most? (JB) Probably, I’ve kind of drawn most of the inspiration for the stuff that I do from things outside of art. I mean, there are a few painters that I’ve looked to people like Malcolm Morley, who spent a long time doing car related paintings, but honestly, I’d say a lot of the stuff that I do is either directly inspired by Formula 1, which you don’t really see in museums. Apart from that, I’d say old magazines and music probably have more of an influence on the stuff that I do than looking at other people’s art.
What music are you listening to? (JB) A lot of like Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines, sort of early 2000s English rock band. It really depends on the day. I have a studio playlist that I use that is 18 hours long, that covers all of the bases and I can just put it on shuffle and whatever and work with that. But mostly guitar driven music.
Is New York still the best place for the artist? (JB) I think so. I just got a job a few weeks ago working at a gallery. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people who seem to think that their career would not have gone in the way that it did, had they not been here. Although it might not be the best place for a motorsport artist, because I feel like even the US as a whole. I mean, it’s picking up here, but it’s not what it is anywhere else in the world.
Do any of your friends know about Formula 1 and any other form of motorsports? (JB) Not any of my friends have any idea. And my teachers would see the paintings and say, ‘Oh, it’s a great NASCAR painting’, which is kind of funny. More and more people are starting to get a handle on it. But for the most part, it’s not really something that they talk about, or watch or think about, although I’ve gotten a few people to do it now.
How did you first get into drawing Formula 1 and motorsports? (JB) Formula 1 was probably my dad more than anything. He moved to the US from England when he was three or four, he was actually on one of the last ships that came through Ellis Island. Just being around my dad definitely got the first sort of taste of it. Growing up, I would go to a racetrack in Connecticut near where I grew up called Lime Rock. And I didn’t ever see Formula 1 stuff there. But that was sort of my first introduction in motorsport. And then as I got older, I rediscovered it for myself. I have a friend Tucker, who was also really into it and pushed it on me again after I’d fallen out of it.
“This man in the red suit is an interesting character, but with the helmet on, it’s a totally different thing. He is an advertisement in the same way that Marlboro man himself.”
What is so special about making art in motorsports? (JB) I think mine was really specifically geared towards Marlboro in motorsport. That was what my thesis paper and all of the paintings I had been doing before. It’s been such a long standing and complicated relationship.
(JB) For me, it went back to the idea that these people like Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher were carried around like heroes, because they were but they slip up, one thing goes wrong, and it’s really easy for everything to come crumbling down. So I think I was interested in how problematic I found the expendability of a person. The big painting that was the central one for my thesis project was called, So Long As He’s Winning or Dying, which was the idea of this man in the red suit as an interesting character, but with the helmet on, it’s a totally different thing. He is an advertisement in the same way that Marlboro man himself was and it doesn’t really matter who’s under the helmet to marketing executives, so long as they’re doing a good job they are still bringing money in some way. So I think that was what pushed me into it.
(JB) Before I was interested in racing in the way that I am now I was interested in Marlboro’s advertising. It comes up in art history with people like Richard Prince, it’s just something that’s always fascinated me and I think I explore that by doing the work that I’m doing.
What’s your favourite medium to work with? (JB) A lot of the work that I have sold has been acrylic paintings on canvas. But I think the most control that I feel, which is probably with drawings so I’d say pencil and paper or pen and paper, recently got a bunch of markers as a gift, I’ve been using those a lot.
When you’re not making an art, how do you spend time? (JB) I used to live with two of my roommates that I was in a band with, although they ended up moving away, either playing music or skateboarding.