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Navigating Influential Currents with James Flames

>> Bold, bright colors, intricate outlines and a story within every picture. These are the immediately apparent hallmarks of James Flames Posters. Flames is an artist straight out of Brooklyn, New York who has since moved to Asheville, North Carolina. His style is his own. You’re unlikely to ever come across an artist that uses the same expressions. He screen prints all of his work to create the posters’ vibrant colors. Although taking a spontaneous trip to North Carolina wasn’t a possibility for the members of Floated, Krit Upra was able to call James Flames over the phone for an impromptu interview.

Today, James Flames is able to boast working for artists like David Matthews Band and Billy Joel. This wasn’t always the case, though. Flames never imagined that art and illustration could make his living. “It was never this, it didn't seem like a reality. This drawing part of my life could be the thing that I earn a living off of. It was just a thing on the side. Like my Mothers a painter, my Grandfathers a painter, my Uncles a painter. They're painters on the side, they have jobs then they come home and paint... All the examples of artists in my life, it was just a thing they did on the side.” This was a reality that Flames had accepted. He didn’t live distraught or depressed because his full time job had nothing to do with his passion.

It wasn’t until later in life when Flames’ younger brother entered college, that he realized art could be more than a hobby. “My youngest brother started going to college and he went to The School of Visual Arts in New York City. He started studying illustration, I would come home and see his stuff and kinda feed off of some of the things he was learning. And it started to become a little more of a reality. ‘Oh he’s going to college so that he can earn a living off of this later on. That’s crazy, I should look into that.’ You know, usually there are stories of people getting influenced from their older brothers later in life. I was totally inspired by my younger brother.”

Flames had a rough start despite an entire life's worth of practice. Screen Printing wasn’t a skill that he mastered from the start. “I had all these posters on my wall that were all screen printed and I said, well, I guess this is something else I have to learn. I set it all up in my living room, washed out the screens in my shower and I totally made a mess... All these mistakes that you make, you just kinda learn from. It's frustrating, it's one of those things where you just have to persevere. You've seen the videos on facebook right? Where you look at it and it’s like, it’s so easy! ‘He puts a piece of paper down, puts a thing over it, makes the ink, look how awesome it is!’ And I'll tell you, it took me 8 1/2, 9 years to make it look like that. There are still setbacks sometimes.” This is a lesson that artists of all mediums can take to heart. No matter how gifted, talented or successful you may be, you’re not immune from the occasional slip up. And, when that mistake does happen, it doesn’t negate all of your triumphs.

Learning to screen print wasn’t Flames’ biggest grapple. For him, it’s been the meaning behind each piece, what elevates the works to more than lines on a piece of paper that dug deepest. “The biggest struggle that I had, I still have, is figuring out what's my story to tell. I have artistic ability, I have technical abilities... But what's going to be on the paper, what's my story that I'm trying to tell. What makes my artwork different from your artwork or somebody else's artwork.” It’s a question that every artist, whether they be a painter, musician, or photographer, has had to ask themselves at one point or another.

Sometimes it’s tricky to realize what makes you different. For Flames, it wasn’t until he heard another artist in an interview that he began to understand his talents. “As it grew and I tried to figure out what's my thing, I heard a really well respected artist. He was in an interview and someone asked a really similar question to this. He said you can only draw what you know so the best advice he can give is sit down, get a piece of paper and write down a list of the things that you know, the things that you really know, what could you talk about, what do you have information about, what do you have experience with” Every artist has their own unique experiences to shape how they go about their medium. Each person has lived a life that no one else will ever live which makes what they know unlike what anyone else does. This is something that might not be apparent until a person sits down to truly self reflect.

All of these people of varying talents is what forms the heart of a community. A painter could be encouraged by other artists outstanding charcoal drawings. “It's a normal thing for artistic communities to be helpful of each other, for instance, my niche as you'd call it. We urge each other to be better. I see one of my friends print out a poster and I see his art jump to a new level it just motivates me to be better. It’s a small world, you'll find that the years go on and on , everybody knows everybody and it's really just small groups of people .Once you make friends with some of them, you make friends with all of them.” Without these bonds, artists would be left on their own. The community would never be able to move forward with everyone fending for themselves.

James Flames’ Posters can be found on his website, www.jamesflames.com. He also has a facebook and instagram page for people to rummage through his work. I’d encourage anyone who loves art and even music to give them a look. Each piece is unique and thought out. The bands that commission them do so because of the style he offers. You may just find a design you love and get a print of your own. <<

“The only way to add to the list is to go out and live your life. Get experience, learn new things.. Once you add it to the list, you can add it to your expression, to your story.”

- James Flames

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