James Cochran, aka Jimmy C, played a key role in the development of the underground graffiti movement in Australia during the early 1990’s, and after working on numerous mural commissions and community arts projects, went on to complete a Masters degree in Visual Arts at the University of South Australia with an interest in urban realist and figurative oil painting. His two interests in graffiti and oil painting converged, leading to the development of Cochran’s signature aerosol pointillist style; portraits or urban landscapes painted entirely from blobs of spray paint. This technique developed into what he called the ‘drip paintings’ and the ‘scribble paintings’, composed of layers of coloured drips or energetic lines to form vibrant and poetic cityscapes and portraits. Cochran now lives in London and his canvases and walls can be viewed in cities across the world.
Jimmy was nice enough to answer a few questions we had for him.
Could you tell us a little about yourself, where you´re from and how did you get started in the street art scene?
I grew up in Adelaide in Australia and got involved in the graffiti scene when I was about 15. The year was 1988 and the graffiti scene had taken hold in Australia and was developing fast.
Do you have a formal education?
I went to art school (The University of South Australia) and did a degree and went on to do my Masters. It was the 90’s and the ideas around installation art were strong, and painting was not very popular, well at least the painting that I wanted to do. Painting with the spray can was not yet mainstream, and I kept it secret, which was a fairly natural thing to do coming from the graffiti scene. The other kind of painting I was interested in was in figurative realism with oil paint, so I had to go and visit the museums in Europe for my learning on that subject.
Your art is multilayered and complex. Could you describe the development process of your artwork?
I guess technically it is quite complex, and I use a lot of colours to get the effect I want. Most of my images are made up of layers of dots or lines, and I learnt that it was easier to start with the main form first blocked in, and then to build up the layers of colour on top of that. The dripping dots or the squiggly lines with the spray add a further energy to the piece.
How much does your art affect or influence your everyday life and are there any role models or artists who inspired you?
My art is synonymous with my life, so there is no separation.
I have had different role models at different times, and when I was at art school my role models were painters from the 17th Century like Caravaggio and Velasquez. Right now the artists who I admire are the ones working on the street and aiming to raise awareness or to bring about direct social change, such as Faith 47, Evoka, and Swoon.
How do you go about creating your street art? How do you choose a street/environment?
In most cases, I have a basic design idea and then I go look for the wall. It comes down to a feeling whether that wall is right for the design idea or not.
Has your style developed throughout the years?
It went from lettering styles in the graffiti framework through to figurative realism with oil paint, then to the current aerosol pointillist technique. I hope it will continue to develop, but right now there is still a lot of scope working with dots, circles, and spheres.
What are your thoughts on the way the internet is influencing the artworld?
The internet not only allows accessibility and the sharing of images but also gives many artists a sense of authorship over their work. In other words they have a certain power and responsibility for how their work is disseminated and shared. At the same time with the internet they can lose the control of how their work is shared, which is ok in most cases, as long people remember to credit the artist’s name.
Which countries have you visited to paint so far and where did you like it best?
I have painted in Australia, England, France, Belgium, Spain, Turkey, and the USA. They all have amazing experiences attached to them.
Have you painted in the USA? If so, what was your experience like?
I have painted in New York twice, firstly doing a graffiti style piece at the Tats crew office in the Bronx, and secondly a piece at 5 Pointz in Queens. I also painted a couple of walls for the Museum of Public Art in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Is there a message in your art?
I used to describe my approach as socio/poetical, that is, I have always had the social link to my work through portraits coming from real people from the street, but the way I paint them is as much about colour, poetry, and spirit. The message in my work is subtle, but it is about interconnectedness – our connection to each other and to nature. I explore this through the use of dots and spheres, which can have links to the ideas of atoms and planets.
Street art is still considered vandalism, how is it for you to go out and paint in the street? Did you ever have any problems with the law?
This depends what city or area you are in, and where I live in London it is quite liberally accepted. I had some problems with the law when I was younger, and more recently I was almost arrested in Paris last year. Luckily the gendarmes (Paris police) seemed to be able to appreciate the portrait I was painting and decided to let me go.
What have been your most challenging and rewarding piece of work thus far?
There are so many challenges and yet so many rewards with so many of the pieces, but to give you one example, there was a wall that I was painting in Berlin last year where I was trying to convey a sense of harmony and positivity through the design, and I was doing it for a friend who was going through a hard time. At the end of the first day I realized that my proportions were way out, and that night I could not sleep out of concern as I only had the following day left to complete it. So the following day I used all my effort to bring it together before getting on the plane, and it came out ok, but more importantly my friend loved it. What was nice was that almost 6 months later I got a moving email from someone in Berlin who said that she sees the portrait every week, and it has given her strength and optimism every time she felt down. This was really humbling and rewarding for me, because it meant that I had been able to reach someone else through the original intention of the painting.
What do you do when you are not creating art? What are your hobbies?
Yoga, reading, and the art of food and wine 😉
What’s next for you? What shows or projects do you have planned?
I head to Brazil next week and will aim to do some painting over there. The following week I will go into the mountains of Peru for another kind of journey. In June I have a small book coming out in the Opus series with Editions Criteres, which will be in English and French so I will do a couple of events around that in London, Paris, and Lille. I then want to continue with more socially minded projects, such as painting walls and raising money to give directly back into the areas of need.
Any words of advice for aspiring new artists?
Patience, perseverance, and trust.
Street Art United States would like to thank Jimmy for his time and wishes him good luck and success, and hoping to keep in touch!