James Zamora’s work somehow demonstrates that which we all feel, but may never actually be able to express: life is not always simple. It’s detailed, layered, and full of unforeseen intricacies. As an artist, James possesses classic talent, an adept hand, and strong sense of self. Beyond that though, he reminds us just how complex simple things can be when you look close enough, earning him the title of this week’s Artist You Need to Know.
Vango: Why do you do what you do?
James: I really love the idea of being connected with historical artists, but at the same time recording my environments as they are. Artists have always painted consumeristic products, whether that be food or clothing or someone who’s appearances are beautiful; and I’m doing just that. Except our food isn’t typically presented like it was in the 16th century. We have products that compete for our attention as consumers. And because of that fact, I am offered a mass amount of color everyday.
V: Why is realism so appealing to you?
J: Realism has always excited me. The equation of shapes and light and color coming together to create an object we recognize is important to me. Also realism allows me to record our ever changing environment.
V: We love your grocery aisles, how do you choose which ones to paint?
J: I use photography to capture my initial imagery. When I do these photoshoots, usually while I’m shopping, I take several photos from different aisles. When I go through the images I choose what stands out to me. Sometimes an empty slot where a popular product used to be, nearly empty shelves because a giant snow storm was in the forecast, or my absolute favorite is a pristine aisle. One where a stocker had just finished their duties. Something about a full aisle gives us comfort as Americans. You may not be aware of that comfort, but at a subconscious level we know that for a couple of dollars we can be full. Or with .89 cents we can have 8 servings of spaghetti noodles.
I believe if our shelves were all of a sudden emptied we would begin to feel a sense of urgency and unrest, maybe even fear.
V: We’ve seen your food paintings fly off the shelf – from chicken sandwiches to sriracha – why do you think people are so drawn to these types of images?
J: When we think of traditional paintings, we think flowers, sky, landscape, and humans. So when your eventually run into a painting of something so ordinary the reaction is a natural connection. Whether that connection be negative or positive, you cannot ignore your staples for your own meals or your guilty pleasure.
V: What tracks would we most likely find you listening to in the studio?
Lately I’ve been listening to Blink 182 and Dirty Loops. That’s right, from punk to pop/jazz/fusion.
V: We know there aren’t many figures in your pieces, but we’re curious: Do the complexities of your objects relate to the people who use/interact with them? Or is it really just about the singular object?
J: It’s really both. As a viewer you’re immediately connected because of the regular occurrence of something like a Dr. Pepper can. But isolating the Dr. Pepper can in a spotlit environment brings a new experience. Because of the throwaway nature of an aluminum can, we as humans do not typically turn off all the lights in the house, grab an LED lamp, and then spotlight the can, then contemplate the existence of the can at eye level. And that is what I believe to be is my job as an artist. To give that experience to an audience, so that we may either be thankful for living in America and having these things readily available, or have a totally negative experience about consumerism and even littering. And through all of this we have a conversation with something so temporary.
V: What has been your most challenging object to paint?
J: Fried Chicken Tenders. I attempted painting a 36″x48″ chicken tender painting four years ago. I never completed the piece, and actually I think I threw it away! But I think my mental scars have healed and I will go back to this subject and succeed this time!
V: Besides both being part of your work, what do you think food and art share in common?
J: I like to relate to the impressionists most of the time. Although my work is not impressionistic, I share the same philosophies. Something they did that I’m doing now, is they would paint their surroundings. Painters have always done this and it creates a historical timeline. I want to keep that tradition going.
V: Tell us something we’d only know if we’d been friends for 20 years.
J: I love HALO!! (the video game)
Want to see what else James is cooking up? Follow his Vango portfolio here to see what grocery aisle he adds to his portfolio next and check out his instagram @jameszamora for even more looks behind the scenes.