O.Two – Phosphene Smoke
Art has never been a subject that I have felt particularly qualified to speak on. And while I know what I like, I often find it difficult to articulate why. Generally, the phrase “I know what I like” always seems to be the penchant of the stubborn or the ignorant – often both. I would suppose I fall into both categories and, therefore, my endorsement of an artist or their work would mean very little. I can truthfully say that I like O.Two’s work. The same can be said for the work of SheOne – his partner in crime – whose exhibition we covered back in October.
Black Lodges draws on an assortment of outsiders, rebels and – most prominently – talented people. The group eschews definition or categorisation, but through it I have encountered some of the most engaging minds and those who exude brilliance in their respective fields. James Carey, AKA O.Two, is only the most recent iteration in this list of encounters.
As I said, art is not my area of expertise, but I did find his exhibition, hosted by Edinburgh’s Gamma Pro Forma, truly awesome. Instead of telling you about it, we took photos and spoke to James; which provides a much truer representation of his work.
Photography by Lewis Mclean
How did you get here?
I’ve always painted or drawn, it’s all I know how to do, my first language. I was very lucky as a kid, my parents were as close as you can get to being hippies, without being hippies – so they always encouraged self expression, and a healthy disrespect for convention. Growing up in that kind of environment, dissent and rebellion felt like a duty, or a right. So painting graffiti and skateboarding and doing all the predictable teen kid stuff was just a natural extension of painting and drawing. Fun. I’ve matured and my ideas and the way I apply them has changed. Priorities and realities have changed too – I’m a father. Painting a wall is my favourite thing to do – but these days, there are only so many sacrifices I’ll make to be able to do so, where as ten years ago, I had nothing to lose and cared about very little but myself (and even then, I didn’t care so much) – so painting canvas work is my focus. For the time being, that’s the call I’m answering.
Between painting a busted wall in the arse-end of nowhere, and taking my daughter to the park and watch her shred on her scooter for three hours straight – I’ll take the park. That shit is hilarious. On the other hand – if you’ve got a way in to an abandoned New York Subway station, and paint ready to go – I’ll book flights now. Swings and roundabouts.
Can you explain how this exhibition came about and what were the main influences behind your work for it?
It came around after I was part of the Futurism 2.0 group exhibition in London in early 2013. Rob Swain at Gamma Proforma had organised the show, and was working with artists on separate projects – he invited me to make some work for a solo show in Edinburgh. No brainer.
The main influences behind my work are music and the simple act of painting with spray paint – graffiti, illegal or not, or straight abstract painting. I enjoy the basic process, watching paint and colour move, shift and interact with itself. I got to know spray-paint through painting graffiti; emptying cans is addictive. It’s immediate and incredibly satisfying. You can get your point across with a can of spray paint very quickly.
ow long did the process of creating this body of work take? I know it was done in-between a pretty sick snowboarding holiday.
The snowboarding was pretty good. Some of the best I’ve had in ten years. But the work’s been happening for a few months now. Building up layers and stripping them back. I’d say three or four months from beginning to end – but it’s a curve – the amount of energy that’s directed towards the work becomes more focused and committed closer to the time of the opening. Initially the work is started and exists on the periphery while I get on with other paintings and life. I like to have the first stages of work sit around while I get to know them and get used to their energy.
That time away in the mountains actually served really well for wiping my mind of all the other noise I was carrying with me. I was able to return to the studio, and spend 6 days and 6 nights tying the 15 paintings together.
Can you explain how you work – from the initial idea or inspiration to the finished piece?
Panic attacks and flashbacks. It starts with a notebook of sketches, drawings, slogans and type ideas – rough concepts, song lyrics, quotes, theology – found wisdom. Then it’s about building up layers and stripping them back. I tend to look at a collection of paintings for an exhibition like an ‘album’ with each piece a track on the album. So the titles and the feel of each piece tend to reflect a moment in time, or a response to a specific turn of events.
When you’re not painting, what do you do?
All sorts – I work with my girlfriend making print design for her fashion label, and we have a couple of side projects making t-shirts and playing around with screen-printing. Publish a zine once in a while. Time with my daughter is golden. I spend a lot of time at gigs, a lot of time trying to start my ’76 Honda CB, a lot of time considering 3for2 deals on imported beers at my local Off Licence. Leaving sarcastic remarks on Instagram. Retweeting links to obscure heavy metal Youtube videos. Drunk eBaying. The usual 21st Century pass-times.
This exhibition lasts for 8 weeks, what are your plans for after it’s finished?
Really, I just want to make more work. I want to stay busy. So any excuse to make some new paintings or put something out. I have work in a few group shows coming up – A Major Minority at the 1AM Gallery in San Francisco open now. I’m working on my piece for a group show at White Walls gallery in S.F. opening in May. Then there’s my piece for the ‘Rewire’ group show that Rob at Gamma is working on, which I’m really excited to be a part of. It’s a really nice concept for a group show.
Thanks to James for speaking to us. If you’re in Edinburgh, you can still check out the exhibition. Details here.