James Ashe is an artist that works within the themes of place, built heritage, architecture, mental health, LGBT rights, and life in NI – all through the mediums of illustration, typography, and print. James recently exhibited at Framewerk Gallery in February, and has exhibitions planned with the Black Box later this year and a mental health project for 2021. James spoke to The Jumble Magazine about finding inspiration in Belfast’s buildings, creating political art, the lock down, and the local creative scene.
I guess I would say my work is radical in a sense, be it my illustrations of buildings or political slogans, they have always attracted conversation be it praise or criticism.
I get a lot of inspiration from my surroundings, I like the shape and structure of the older buildings in Belfast and the stories they could tell. I also find inspiration in pretty mundane everyday stuff like signs, and even seagulls I used for a recent commission. Going for walks and being surrounded by nature helps clear my head and gives me ideas.
I think that people really connect with my work because it is so connected to the history of this place and what we live through. A lot of people were really interested in my architecture illustrations because they either used to work in the buildings featured or had family history within them. My political slogans draw attraction as well, and people also identify me with it!
“In my ‘Saved Sodomy From Ulster’ piece, I turned the bigotry from generations ago on it’s head all in the name to mark progression and a new age of equality in NI. My Tayto ‘Hands Across The Divide’ illustration was also a big hit, namely because there’s still a debate of Nordie Tayto Vs Free Statyo!”
I think the lock down was both a blessing, and a curse. I say a blessing because I was furloughed from my day job so I had more time to create work (and actually relax!), but at the same time I was stuck at home and hadn’t seen friends in months, so isolation is a big problem with my mental health. I also like working in a studio as there is less noise and distractions.
I like how the local arts scene is small enough that we can all get to know each other, even from beyond different towns and cities. Also, everyone is very supportive of each other, and there tends to be a lot of collaboration within music, visual, written, and performing arts. Belfast is a good place for artists early on in their career, I’m not really corporate in my work – so I don’t really attract any big name agencies or studios for work. But I have got commissions, exhibitions, and sales from friends and small businesses here. In this case Framewerk, The Black Box, and Pedro Donald from The Sunflower are the biggest champions and supporters of the local arts scene here and help artists flourish in the city.