During the first few weeks of July, we decided to incorporate events that were spontaneous to us, one that guided us into a new human interest story and bringing underrated artists to the forefront. We knew about the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair but it seemed to not make it into our agenda for the weekend. Casually walking by Nathan Philips Square we knew we had to take a brief walk to snag a few business cards for later interviews. This is where we saw James Paterson and his Prayer Machines. We couldn’t keep our eyes of his originality, uniqueness and of course admits all of the booths, he was the one that led us to do a double circle. So if James Paterson is so rememberable surrounding Toronto’s eccentric and new creatives, where did his journey begin and why did he take on such an articulate project. Simply a man and a prayer.
How did you first come up with the very original idea of wire sculptures? Was it a light bulb moment creating other pieces of art? These Prayer Machine creations came about when we were living in Germany, actually taking a break from my art career, serving as dorm parents at an international boarding school. I was very stressed and found I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t get words to talk to God. I began thinking, “Well I’m more visual than verbal, what would my prayers ‘look’ like instead of sound like?” I started playing with coat hangers and other bits of wire, making them into little machine-like looking objects. In doing this I found I could talk to God again and so-called them Prayer Machines. After that, the ‘artist’ in me took over and I began developing them more as ‘art objects’. I think there was something in the air in Europe that inspired me!
Where do you pull inspiration while transforming, almost nothing into something? Do you find hints in music, other art or life experiences? I think inspiration comes from the intersection of my interior unconscious flow: what I’m thinking about at any given moment, at any given level, joining with what I constantly see, hear, smell, taste or feel all around me consciously. I’m constantly processing a lifetime of thoughts, feelings, and impressions that continually respond to my current environmental experience and thus respond to it.
You taught art to elementary and high school pupils, did their drive to be an artist and projects inspire you to leave teaching to do what you love full time? I found the time being with young people and the school environment I worked in stimulating, but I knew very quickly I had to have more real-time in which to explore the world within myself that I needed to bring out in a material form. It was a matter of hours in the day. I taught for five years, I’ve been practicing as an artist full time for thirty years now.
Your series are beautiful, especially the Kensington series that caught my eye, which is also where you grew up. Is that your little home away from home you like to visit to pick up bits of familiarity for your new creations? I’m glad you see my work as beautiful. I think beauty is very important and worth defining and pursuing in one’s life. Growing up in Kensington market had a profound and long-reaching impact on me, perhaps because of the nature of the neighborhood itself or perhaps because I spent my formative years there. I don’t get back there that often, though I wish I did, and now that more of my pieces deal specifically with that place I think I will visit it more.
Since joining the Outdoor Art Fair in Toronto and many other places your creations has roam, how has the positive feedback and curious nature of consumers changed your personal outlook on the up and coming new generation of art, are there certain things you look forward to adding to your prayer machines? I’ve been very humbled and pleased by the positive response to my Prayer Machine creations and the way they seem to speak to people. I am trying to understand the objects better, to know what it is I’m doing with them that makes that strong connection between me and my audience, but I still want to keep them spontaneous and myself open to inspiration’s leading.
Give the best piece of advice you could give to someone wanting to venture into being a full-time artist? What is the ‘one thing’ you would attempt in your life if you were guaranteed you wouldn’t fail? Answer that question then summon the faith to do it.
Do you have any hidden gems or certain places you go to find your ‘puzzle pieces’ for your sculptures? Such as some find the most unusual stuff like stained glass at antique or recycled shops? Actually, I don’t incorporate ‘found pieces’ into my work. I like to make every element myself. I do find a lot of visual inspiration for my art objects in industrial sites, at steam engine shows, in old farm equipment and old motorcycle designs. Any kind of industrial/machine type applications where people and whirling, spinning, moving machines come together.
Your painting featured on your site is so detailed orientated and well…perfect. Will you showcase more of your paintings in the future or is that something personal you like to keep as your relaxing sanctuary away from the imagination for your sculptures? At this point in my life, it is all about time. I am consumed with building the 3D machine-like objects, however, I am trying to develop them into a 2D format as well, either as silkscreen prints, etchings or paintings. Regarding the painting I used to do, I would like to do more again, especially landscape, but I would have to either have a lot more time in my day or they would have to be able to be my voice for what I am saying now.
If your sculptures were human, what would their personality traits be? Somewhat introverted and reflective, but welcoming and desirous of relationship at the same time. They would want to give and share with another but also receive from an open and honest spirit so that a mutually sustaining relationship could grow and be enjoyed. The reason I place the hand crank on the moving pieces at just above waist height is so that when the viewer holds it, to turn it, and activate the motion of the machine, they are engaging in the same place they would shake hands with another person. It is a welcoming interaction.
What is next on your map to where we can see you and your art or maybe something you would like to see happen in the near future with your creations? I will be showing in Miami, Florida in December and hopefully at The Artist Project show in Toronto next February. What I’d like to see happen is to keep doing the small intricate pieces, the ones most anyone can afford and have in their home or apartment; but I’d also like to also to keep growing the other pieces bigger, both as free-standing sculptures and as wall pieces. I’d love to get the wall pieces up to large mural size for public spaces or even have the standing pieces that moved in outdoor settings: ones that were 20 or 30 feet in height. Pieces people could even climb inside. I want to get more of them made and see them everywhere!
Keep up to date with James and his creations visit https://jdpaterson.com/