James Boulton won't stand still. I meet him at his studio at Northwest 14th Avenue and Pettygrove Street, but he wants to head downtown and swill Syrah on top of Big Pink, so we do--and then, scarcely an hour later, we're down at Magic Garden ogling female flesh--but then he wants to take me somewhere else, somewhere very special, borderline sacred, even. So the 28-year-old painter, who makes his one-person-show debut this month at Pulliam Deffenbaugh, leads me down the railroad tracks of the far north Pearl to a spot directly beneath the Fremont Bridge, where the echoes of our voices mingle with the din of cars overhead. Like a couple of Steinbeck winos, we pass his bottle of cheap Côtes-du-Rhône back and forth, talking about his career's ascendant star as the sun dips behind the West Hills.
WW: So what's so special about this bridge?
James Boulton: I can see it from my studio window. It's the first bridge I crossed over into Portland when I first came here to visit in '98. It was at night, and I remember looking down at all the buildings, which were in this soft glow of light, and I felt like the bridge was a hypodermic needle injecting me into the veins of the city.
It's fair to say you like it here, then?
Oh, yes. Portland has everything--except heat.
You mean that literally or figuratively?
Well, I think you've certainly turned up the heat in the art scene here. Your piece in the Biennial last year was the best thing there.
Thanks, but the work I'm doing now is so much more me than the piece I had in the Biennial. It's less of a shout-out to other influences and more specific to what I want to say.
Something about love. I think about love a lot, which sounds hippy-dippy, but I do. And I want to convey a vibration, whether it's spiritual or physical--there's no difference. The world is a vibration--I take that from the Upanishads, which is the most spiritual text I know of, even though I'm a total atheist. I also want to convey energy, fun, enjoyment in all its aspects--not just the "candy" side of fun but the full spectrum.
It shows in your work, which has a really hyperkinetic quality to it.
I'm only moved by something if it's really intense. I want to be hyperengaged. I love that song by MC5: "Kick out the Jams, Motherfuckers!" It's like that Japanese animation a couple years ago that was so intense, it sent all those little kids into epileptic seizures. That's what I want my art to do.
Send us into seizures?
You know what I mean. I was in a show at PSU called Emergence. I wanted them to call it Emergency. I mean, the reason I make my paintings so tactile is that I want to reward the sensualist act of looking rather than the cerebral act of thinking.
Artists nowadays are competing with video games and the Internet, but instead of crying, "Poor me!" and moping back to some charcoal still-life horn of plenty, you actually seem to engage popular culture on its own terms and fight back and win.
I actually take a lot of inspiration from video games, and I combine it with other sources of inspiration, like a specific set of prints I love by Albrecht Dürer, and Robert Rauschenberg, who's a big influence of mine, not so much for his actual work as for his attitude.
When did you know you were going to become an artist?
When I was 9, the Armand Hammer Collection came through New Mexico, and I saw it. I can still remember standing in front of Rembrandt's Juno, just in awe. I couldn't conceptualize it this way at the time, but what that experience did for me was to fortify the belief that, through art, people can speak to one another very personally across massive amounts of time and space. So that stuck with me. I studied philosophy for a year in college and did art on the side, but at a certain point I realized that I couldn't just be an artist on the side anymore.
You've essentially been a DIY artist all these years, eking out a living at day jobs, putting on shows in cafes and small, independent galleries, and then suddenly you were the star of the Biennial and got picked up by a blue-chip gallery, Pulliam Deffenbaugh, and now you're Mr. Man with a one-person show and a lot of the pieces pre-sold before the opening. Do you feel conflicted at all, like you're straying from your indie roots?
I guess I'd rather not discuss that on the record.
James Boulton's arresting new paintings, Anna Fidler's collages.