Biomechanical art naturally aligns itself with the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. It is an art form that seeks to combine elements of the machine with organics for a style of art that is visually surrealistic. Human bones, joints and extremities may be reimagined as metal gears and pneumatic pistons. A motorized camera lens often replaces the eye--a signature augmentation of the trans-human or cyborg.
In 1979, Swiss artist H.R. Giger was instrumental in popularizing ‘biomechanical’ as an art form. Noted for his fantastic and often erotic images, his painting Necronom IV would become the design inspiration for the feature film Alien, earning him an Academy Award in 1980.
As a teenager in 1979, I was not aware that ‘biomechanical’ had become a part of the artistic taxonomy. I only knew that I found the Alien creature design--and Giger’s artwork in general--visually interesting. It was the limited color palettes that intrigued me the most. It allowed you to see detail without distraction. To this day, those color schemes employed by artists such as Giger may be a contributing factor as to why I often use limited color palettes in my own artwork.
Because of my interest in science fiction, coupled with an affinity for the visuals of biomechanical art, I was delighted to have an opportunity to visit with James Ross, a local sculpture artist and screenwriter, for this edition of From The Blue Chair: Interviews With Local Artists.
When I entered James’ office/gallery space, located in downtown Richmond’s Eskimo building, I was greeted by a large wall-mounted sculptural piece entitled “Ascension of Man.” Expertly constructed and posed, the skeleton features gear and conduit augmentations that are functionally believable. The color of the skeleton frame is a convincing simulation of bronze. I was actually surprised to discover it wasn't metal. Combined with the faux metal flex pipe serving as a backdrop, the over-all piece gives an impression of great weight. This piece is a prime example of how a limited color palette can effectively express an apocalyptic vision (click on the image to see a larger view).
Close to the center of the space is a life-sized display of the central character for a film project called Transcarlet, a post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi love story. James currently focuses most of his creativity energies on developing the screen play for the project. Transcarlet was a semi finalist in ScreenCrafts 2015 Sci-Fi global competition, making the top 50 out of 800 international writers (click on the image to see a larger view of Transcarlet conceptual art).
Looking around the room, I saw more sculptures that incorporated a wide variety of items, including vintage medical equipment and unique elements collected from around the world, all assembled into mixed media visions that are both bizarre and beautiful.
James’ art should not be confused as Steampunk. Steampunk--as a science fiction genre--features (as you would imagine) steam-powered gadgets made primarily from obsolete mechanical items. Steampunk also tends to follow a specific esthetic inspired by 19th-century industrial design. For James, Steampunk is somewhat restrictive artistically.
To be both sculptor and screenwriter, a strong creative desire needs to be present. For James, that desire to create manifested at an early age. He made his own intricately detailed toys from materials like discarded paper towel tubes--way before it was socially cool to recycle. Days were spent building rockets and space ships that featured detailed control panels and cockpits. One such design was entered into a national art contest, which added fuel to his creative passions.
But as it is with most who emerge from childhood, James moved away from that particular creative block in time to pursue other interests. However, that need to do something creative would remain.
Starting around 2010, James reached a point in his life where he wanted to express himself artistically. That desire would later be realized in the form of his biomechanical sculptures, but not before going through a period working in the replica movie props industry. Although he made a good living at it, there was no denying the creative limitations
As he developed his art over the years, James would distance himself from Steampunk and the replica props industry, expanding on his own thought-provoking visions as a gallery artist. But even as a gallery artist, James could not escape a common reaction to his art--that his work looked like something from the movies. Even though the comments were meant as a compliment, they were a source of irritation. James wanted to be seen as a serious gallery artist.
In 2012, James was in Kansas City for an exhibition of his work at Spectrum (Fantastic Art) Live. A talent rep from Disney Animation visited his booth and commented that James’ art would be right for film. At this point, James resolved to accept this particular observation regarding his work. It became the catalyst that would move James in a new creative direction, the graphic novel.
While composing a graphic novel based on some ideas James had been carrying around, it became apparent early on that he was writing in a screen play format. The graphic novel was set aside, and several drafts later, a screen play had emerged for the full-length feature film project, Transcarlet. James continues to work towards getting the film project funded and into production. Work will also begin this year on a graphic novel adaption of Transcarlet.
At the end of my visit, James shared some common-sense advice for those wanting to be either a screenwriter or an artist. Firstly, if you wish to be a screenwriter, learn how screen plays are developed. For example, Hollywood is very strict in regards to format, and if you don't follow their idea on how a screen play should be constructed, then most likely your work will end up in the trash.
Secondly, if you wish to be an artist, simply stay true to yourself. Do not become stifled by what others may think you art needs to be. You can learn technique, but you should work to discover your own self as an artist.
In the brief time I visited with James, I can say that he has done exactly that.
For the Community Idea Stations, I’m Marshall Lloyd.