Culture / People

James Oliver, Epic #5

The epic adaptation of Oliver

16 October 2016

2016 has certainly been James Oliver’s year, with three solo shows, and more arranged for 2017 his art is becoming highly collectible, having sold over 150 pieces to date. Best known for his colourful alien beings invading existing paintings, we chatted to the Croydon born artist about everything from epicness to cushions.

Croydonist: We first saw your work on St George’s Walk outside RISE Gallery earlier this year. How on earth do you go about planning a piece of public art and weren’t you worried bits would get stolen?

James: Planning this was relatively easy, I create a lot and at that moment in time I had a bulk of work which I really wasn’t that precious about and considered doing something different with (I’d also at that time not long got rid of a lot of pieces via the Free Art Friday initiative where you leave work lying around wherever you fancy then put up clues on the internet as to where people can find it).

I used to do a lot of installation work at University and had created rooms before to show random pieces in, the idea of wallpapering an outside wall and hanging pieces on it came pretty easily, it was also very quick to install.

As for pieces getting stolen, some pieces only lasted for 24 hours! If I was that attached to the work I wouldn’t have hung it in an outside public space.

James Oliver

James’ installation outside RISE Gallery earlier this year.

Croydonist: Do you think growing up in Croydon has influenced your art at all? Some could argue your rainbow entities are built a bit like some of our 60s architecture!

James: Quite possibly, I’ve always cited my influences to be more centred around things I noticed, grew up with, buildings, films, toys etc as opposed to other artists – I always loved that view of Croydon from the Purley Way, towering masses of grey above the green fields…

James Oliver

Croydonist: As you know, we love your rainbow entity paintings. After your social media post (above), we now know how they are born, but what inspired them?

James: Initially they were born from the idea of trying to create a figure with a degree of ‘Alienness’, epicness even in the simplest way possible. Something also that would juxtapose against any given environment, could be reproduced in any colour or scale to then give additional reasoning to it (dark figures being a portent of doom, light figures being more angelic and pure etc). If there is any obvious (in my mind) influence it would have to be the monoliths from Arthur C Clarke’s 2001.

James Oliver

Left and Centre: Rainbow Entity ‘Bee’ at Saffron Central (with James left); Right: Rainbow Entity at Hamburg exhibition.

Croydonist: They have also gone 3D! We’ve spotted one rainbow entity camouflaged as a bee in Saffron Central, and another in your latest show. What gave you the idea to make them into sculptures?

James: Moving into 3D seemed to be the next natural step and that will be the focus of a future project currently under discussion. My dream is to one day build one 100 meters tall out of concrete and have it sat in a field somewhere for the next thousand years, staring at a neighbouring village…

Croydonist: Ha, sounds awesome! They have certainly been a major theme in your work. Could you tell us a bit about some of your other themes?

James: It’s all about Epicness, it’s almost always about trying to create something ‘Wow!’ or trying to turn something unloved or unwanted into something greater and then make it desired again – hence the large amount of ‘adapting’ of older works (not of my own) I do – that can translate into landscapes, portraits, collage etc, usually with a sci-fi/fantasy/old testament twist…

Croydonist: Whilst we’re on ‘adapting’, how did you come to start using existing paintings?

James: I think it was a natural progression from collaging/montaging – something I did a lot of when I was younger. I love the idea of adding one plus one and trying to achieve three (taking two simple elements, a painting and an Entity and creating a picture that really resonates with someone). I’ve since (via the internet) found that lots of people do it, the main reasons being that it’s lots of fun and why paint a background when there are plenty out there to work with already! I’ve had some rude words aimed in my direction from people saying I’m destroying other people’s creative output but I see it as no different to taking an old handmade chair, giving it a sanding down, lick of paint and sticking a new cushion on it.

Croydonist: You are known for using lots of colour in your work. Have you ever created a monochrome piece.

James: I hadn’t really considered doing a monochrome piece! (starts having ideas….)

James Oliver


Croydonist: What do you think is your most famous/successful painting?

James: I think that has to be ‘Castlemountain’ mainly because it’s one of the only ones the wife actually likes and it was the first one to break a certain sale price I was hoping to achieve.

James Oliver

James on the Rainbow Entity Project: A giant rainbow has descended on Planet Earth and has subsequently divided into 12 separate solidified entities of colour, light and form. In the process of doing this, each of these beings has acquired personality and the ability to enjoy and explore its surroundings. I have been tasked with documenting this rare event through the medium of paint…

Croydonist: And leaving aside fame/success, what is your favourite piece?

James: My personal favourite – difficult to say – possibly the original Rainbow Entity Project set or AVP#2 (Woman).

James Oliver

AVP#2 (Woman)

Croydonist: It’s been a busy year, what with three solo shows – Croydon’s gallery then two in Germany (Hamburg and Ulm). What do you have planned next?

James: Only just agreed! – returning to next April which I’m really excited about, it’s a wonderful little space (and little is good as the emphasis is then on editing down to show off one’s best work) and then late summer back to Germany for a very big show which will include lots of paintings and loads of large scale 3D entities made from all different materials which will be produced in Germany by a renowned set designer! Other than that it’s just a case of creating and trying new things, seeing what themes emerge and responding to commissions if and when they come along.


Finally some Croydon specific questions…

Croydonist: A drink in Matthews Yard, the Oval, the Ship, the Dog and Bull, or the Playground?
James: Matthews Yard because they do an ace burger to go with it!

Croydonist: Shopping – Whitgift Centre, Centrale or the Purley Way?
James: Bluewater every time, sorry, though my favourite shop ever used to be Allders, used to love climbing the giant pyramidal stacks of carpet they had in the basement

Croydonist: A film at David Lean, Grants, or Stanley Halls?
James: When little (and living in Croydon) we always went to Purley, now it’s Reigate or Crawley for me – David Lean looks great though, I love a smaller venue.

Croydonist: Travel by train, tram, bus, bike or Uber?
James: Train over the rest, though car around Croydon is so much easier now I have sat nav.


Thanks to James Oliver for chatting to us. You can see more of his work on his website here.

Images courtesy of the artist

Posted by Julia

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