Interview with James Bullough, Part 2

As artist James Bullough creates a mural at 905 U Street, NW, The Phillips Collection asks him a few questions about his vision and process. Read Part 1 here

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Artist James Bullough on day 4 creating a mural at 905 U Street, NW.

How do you feel your mural proposal speaks to the U Street neighborhood? To the city at large?
Without giving too much away, I wanted to bring a calm and relaxing piece of art to an area that is anything but. The underwater color pallet and sense of quiet calm that the floating figures will create will be a nice relief from the chaos and hustle of a busy city street. Just below the surface, however, this piece may also speak to the feeling often shared among people living in a big city; that they are lost in a world that’s too big for them, one that they are powerless to impact or even be seen in… then again, maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with that.

What is most challenging about being a mural artist?
The most difficult part for me in creating any work of art is developing an interesting and innovative idea for every piece. I try to do something new with every painting, but as my schedule for both mural work and studio/gallery work fills and fills, it becomes increasingly hard to come up with new and interesting ideas at such a rapid pace. I have a very high standard for myself and keeping up with my own self imposed criteria and criticisms is a major task to say the least.

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Mural artist James Bullough in action.

These questions largely focus on your mural painting. Have you or do you work in other mediums?
My studio work is mostly one of two mediums. I paint with oils and I draw with pencil. My oil paintings can be on canvas, panel, or often times on interesting pieces of wood that I find on the streets of Berlin or on my travels. The subject matter of my studio work tends to be more provocative than my public artwork and often revolves around the female nude or semi-nude figure. Pencil illustration is another love of mine but in the art world, unfortunately, an oil painting has a much higher value than a pencil drawing and as I have streamlined my painting process over the past year or so, it takes me about the same amount of time to do a nice pencil drawing as it does to do an oil painting so I haven’t done much drawing lately.

Are there any artists, art historical or otherwise, who inform your work?
One of my biggest influences historically was Egon Schiele who painted the human form in a groundbreaking and innovative way even though it cost him greatly. The Avant Garde nature of his work is hugely inspirational and motivated me as a developing artist to push myself.

To be honest though, most of my influences are and always have been young contemporary artists. Specifically, people around my own age and with similar aesthetic sensibilities. Artists like Conor Harrington, Erik Jones, Jaybo Monk, Etam Crew, and pretty much any living realistic oil painters. Feeding off of other artists’ energy, drive, and motivation is one of the biggest things that fuels my fire and pushes me to stay on top of my game and keep competitive with an ever-expanding and increasingly exceptional group of peers.

How has your work changed over the years?
My work is constantly changing. The realism is getting more and more real as I have more experience with my materials and techniques and I continue to push myself to dissect, fracture, distort, and manipulate my subjects in new and interesting ways. Hopefully this process will continue and the “changing” will never stop.

Spotlight on Intersections@5: Annabel Daou

The Phillips celebrates the fifth anniversary of its Intersections contemporary art series with Intersections@5, an exhibition comprising work by 20 of the participating artists. In this blog series, each artist writes about his or her work on view.

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Annabel Daou, pieces of the love letter: the common tongue, 2014. Gift of the Artist and Tanja Wagner Gallery, Berlin, 2015

In pieces of the love letter: the common tongue, fragmented sheets of paper are left unmarked by ink, but are held together by mending tape, which is alternately adhered to or suspended above the paper. The love letter is repetitive and frantic. It attempts to lay claim to something solid and precise and yet it seems always on the verge of disintegration.

The love letter figures in this work figures as a privileged marker of the impossible adequateness of language and desire. The ability to express a seemingly universal emotion is perpetually placed in question, both by the work and by the authors of the language they employ.

This work furthers Daou’s exploration of the intersections between writing, speech, and non-verbal modes of communication. As elsewhere in her work, language emerges as a site of both ruin and repair.

Staff Show 2015: Sandy Lee

In this series, Assistant to the Education Department Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2015 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through October 4, 2015.

Harley Quinn by Sandy Lee

Sandy Lee, Harley Quinn, August 2015, acrylic, marker, motor oil on canvas

Sandy Lee graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a degree in Art Studio. He has done a lot of airbrushing of t-shirts and hockey goalie masks.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection?
I am the IT Support Specialist at the Phillips, and am just starting my eighth year here.

Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?
The most fulfilling thing is being able to assist all of the departments with various IT needs, be it virtual gallery modeling, video conferences, or working with artists on exhibition projections. It NEVER gets boring!  One of the coolest projects I was able to work on was uploading hi-res images of Mark Rothko’s Ochre and Red on Red to Marvel Studios for use in the “Iron Man 3” movie.  It’s in Tony Stark’s apartment, and it gets blown up in one of the action scenes.

Who is/are your favorite artist/artists in the collection?
Raoul Dufy! The artworks remind me of the Pepe Le Pew cartoons.  Also, Marjorie Phillips’s Night Baseball—there is such detail in that painting, so you know she loved the game.

What is your favorite gallery/space within The Phillips Collection?
It’s so difficult to pick one. The Music Room has a quiet, dark elegance to it, as well as the Rothko Room. The galleries change constantly, so visit often!

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2015 Staff Show (or your work in general)?
I’m a huge fan of illustration, and I modeled the painting after one of Alphonse Mucha’s posters from the Art Nouveau era. I added motor oil as the background because I had just finished doing an oil change on my car, and it’s got a nice sheen and odor of the city. Harley Quinn is also one of my favorite comic icons; you’ll see her in the upcoming movie “Suicide Squad.”


The 2015 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view September 2 through October 4, 2015. The show features artwork from The Phillips Collection staff. Please join us at the Staff Show reception on Thursday, September 17 6-8 pm.