Special Guest Artists (husband and wife duo!) James Landry, painter, photographer, and musician, and Nicole Burton, author, share their inspiration and creative processes. Enjoy their artworks on display in the Lois and Richard England Gallery at Iona through January 9, 2017.
Q. When did you first start creating art/writing?
James: I always wanted to “do” things: take pictures, make music, make paintings. For me, these activities all seemed like the same thing. I’m a photographer, painter, musician (keyboards), blogger, poet, performer, husband, and father.
Nicole: I started writing as a child and have kept a journal my whole life. I was relinquished as a baby and grew up in an adopted home. Writing stories, I could be truthful and explore the mysteries and possibilities around me.
Q. Since then, how has your artwork/writing evolved?
James: After obtaining a B.A. from the University of Bridgeport, CT, I moved to San Francisco. There I got a Nikon, my first “real” camera, and learned to process film and make B&W prints. In 1972 I moved back to Washington, D.C. and eventually started a band, Acrylix. We toured the East Coast, from New York to Miami. In 1985, the band reorganized as Shocko Bottom, named after a neighborhood in Richmond, VA. In 1988, I married Nicole Burton, a playwright and actress. We have always supported each other as artists.
Nicole: I wrote stories and poems and acted in theater throughout my teens. A friend suggested I try playwriting because my poems often had dialogue. As soon as I tried the form, I was hooked. She and I started a Brechtian theater company in DC called Everyday Theater. I studied English and playwriting at the University of the District of Columbia where I received my B.A. in 1989. I worked for years as a writer-editor for the federal government, always writing and producing plays on the side. I enjoy all kinds of writing but plays have my heart. They’re challenging!
Q. Where do you draw your inspiration?
James: From everything. The world around me. People. Buildings. The light, shadows. In San Francisco and DC, the light and the diverse buildings fascinate me so I created a series called “Urban Landscapes.” When our son was young, there were small toys everywhere in the house. The “Boy Toys” photographic series was born, closeups of the tiny faces and figures of the toys. When I began making large acrylic paintings, I painted abstracts from the urban landscape photos and eventually, pixelated close-ups of portraits of people, toys, and icons, which became the series, “Pixelated Portraits.”
Nicole: I’ve been blessed with a fascinating life: multiple, blended families; reunion; immigration to the U.S.; travel; motherhood; activism; and a public service career so I never want for material. My favorite theatrical genre is drama that’s dark yet redeeming. I love the intersection of the personal and political. Everything’s political. Everything’s personal. I’m never bored. Like James, I find material all around me.
Q. What is your artistic/writing process?
James: I use the materials at hand in my studio in the basement. I paint with acrylics, never could wait for oil to dry. When I was painting large canvases, I’d plan out the painting meticulously. I’d enlarge and “pixelate” the image, print it out, and create a grid on canvas before I painted. As soon as I finished a painting, I began another one.
Nicole: I set aside a few mornings a week for uninterrupted time. I can really focus when I let myself. I usually wait until a subject taps me repeatedly on the shoulder before I commit to writing a play about it because we’re going to be living together for years. Many of my plays have been historical and involve research. I generally outline and write character histories before I begin but at some point, it’s time to put away all notes and research and write.
Q. Has your process changed as you’ve aged?
James: I’m painting smaller and quicker pieces now, usually works on paper with acrylic paint, spray paint, or pastels. Whatever we get at the arts supply store! Plus shells, rocks, driftwood, leftover building supplies.
Nicole: Yes and no. Writing a play always feels like jumping off a cliff but now I know I’ll survive. There’s still so much I don’t know about playwriting but the constant learning makes it fun. Every play has something to teach me. I’ve rejiggered my definition of success. I try to make my own success through self production and by starting my own publishing company, Apippa Publishing Company, to publish our books.
Q. Are you involved in each other’s projects. Describe that relationship.
James and Nicole: Yes! All of the above. I published James’ color photography book, Memory Music, and we’ve performed several multimedia shows jointly. We work together and help each other. James has always been a truthful, no-nonsense early reader of my work.
Q. What does “creative aging” mean to you? Has having the arts in your life informed other aspects of it?
James: It means you keep on working. Artists cannot stop. The only time you stop is when you’re dead.
Nicole: Art is a never ending inspiration and teacher. The older I get, the more I enjoy the process of writing.
Q. What do you hope to evoke from visitors with your exhibition in the Gallery?
James: That they come in happy and go out happy. Uplifting. Though art, this is not hard to do.
Nicole: What he said.
James: Where’s the money?!
Want to hear more from our artists? Check out our upcoming events here (scroll down to see our next arts events).