James Bullough tells of his career as a street artist
By BERLIN LOVES YOU . January 19, 2016
The very nature of street art is one of duality. Unlike a curated gallery or exhibition, the general public can walk past your work and never even take a second to gaze upon it. Yet, the idea that just one person could stumble upon your artwork on a hidden street corner, and feel like they’ve revealed a wondrous treasure only they know about … this is what drives street artists – the notion of discovery. However, street art can also be fleeting, which is why this makes it all the more precious.
“Many of the walls I have painted have been either painted over or no longer exist. It’s just the way of the world,” American-born and now Berlin-based street artist James Bullough tells Berlin Loves You. “Eventually those buildings get torn down or some other artist decides to use that wall for his or her work. If you can’t handle that then you should just keep working in your studio. You’ll be missing out on thousands and thousands of people in the street who would have been able to experience your work, but you’ll be able to keep it safe.”
As Banksy has shown the world, graffiti can be poignant and impressive, rather than the oft-associated indecipherable scribble on the sides of a café shutter. Alongside other street artists with work in Berlin such as Victor Ash (known for the ‘Astronaut’ piece on Skalitzer Straße) and Blu (known for the ‘Pink Man’ piece nearby Oberbaum Bridge), James is proving that city walls and tower blocks shouldn’t be a bland opaque white, but instead a playground for creativity.
Like any artist, James started out small, yet worked hard at his craft and aimed for bigger and better things. And bigger and better isn’t simply a turn of phrase, as James went from small pieces on walls, to gigantic murals on the sides of tower blocks. One of James’ best artistic accomplishments is without a doubt his ‘Totem’ mural, which can still be seen at Landsberger Allee 228B, Berlin. A simply epic piece of art that is bursting with colour and imagination, ‘Totem’ was a joint piece with fellow American artist Addison Karl, and took just over a month to complete in 2014. The mural of three individuals all standing on each other’s backs (forming the totem) is a stunning 11 stories high, requiring the use of a crane and a lot of perseverance to complete the project.
“These days I am fortunate enough to be invited to paint walls in different cities, mostly with both a budget and people organizing the details. Therefore pretty much everything I do now is completely legal unless the organizers are not doing their job, which also happens. I have been shut down for various reasons but we always find a way to finish the project,” says James.
Similar to many folk who visit Berlin and decide to live here after falling in love with the city (see our How to Make it in Berlin series here), James quit his job as a middle-school teacher in Baltimore, US, and he and his wife (a native of Berlin) moved to the German capital nearly five years ago. With a desire to focus on his art full-time, James says he’s never looked back and calls it “the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Although decorating the sides of trains never held much interest for James, it was in fact the walls alongside the train tracks where he says he “first fell in love with graffiti.” Originally growing up in a town near Washington, D.C., James has since returned to the US for various exhibitions, one of which taking place in a Los Angeles museum. “The museum exhibit was a bit overwhelming and the pressure to create something great was pretty heavy, but in the end it was a great success and showed people what I was really capable of,” he says.
As for what exactly James prefers to paint, a quick glance at his work shows you his preference for painting people in his trademark colourful style. Women especially, are decorated onto dull walls – simply crushing the banality of blankness with the splendour of beauty. “My work does focus on the female form and that just kind of happened naturally for me,” explains James. “I’ve painted both men and women but the smooth delicate skin and long flowing hair of a woman is unmatched in nature for its grace and beauty. I’ve just never found anything I enjoy painting quite as much.”
As for his next project, James is currently working on a solo show at Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles, scheduled for spring 2016. In the meantime, be sure to visit his website at jamesbullough.com, and of course, simply look around at tower blocks and walls across Berlin – you might be surprised by what you’ll find.
A ‘making-of’ video of the ‘Totem’ piece can be seen below.
Photo credit for ‘Totem’ – Just (1just.de)
Text: Joe Garland