February 25th, 2023
James Wolanin’s candy-coated dreamscapes blend the vintage aesthetic and charm of the past with the modern sensibility and graphic style of today, creating works that are all at once, nostalgic and new. The worlds that New Jersey artist James Wolanin creates takes our collective memories of the past and makes them brighter, shinier, and more exuberant than ever, transforming mid-century iconography into utopic visions of beauty, joy, and elegance.
We are proud to now welcome the work of James Wolanin to Gallery MAR in Park City, where his stylish subjects and powdery white mountain backdrops feel right at home. In our first conversation with the artist, we discuss his background in Graphic Design and its influence on his work, his vintage inspirations, and how he leaves room for the viewer in his work.
Gallery MAR: How did you first know that you wanted to make art your profession?
James Wolanin: I’ve known my entire life really. One of my earliest childhood memories is that of drawing. I can still visualize the crudely drawing cars with people in them. I actually drew one on a dresser when I was a kid, and I’ve been drawing ever since.
Gallery MAR: We understand that you have a background in graphic design. How do you feel that graphic design work influenced your painting style?
James Wolanin: I think it has a lot to do with my color palette, like my bold, flat use of colors. I think that comes from my design background.
Gallery MAR: Speaking of your color palette, I see on your artist statement that you’ve described your colors as “candy coated” which I just love. Could you talk a little bit more about the beautifully vibrant, punchy color palette that you use?
James Wolanin: I take a lot from mid-century America, so I think I’m inspired by the color palette of that era: the 60s, the fashion, the appliances, the kitchen… everything was very colorful with lime greens and bright yellows. So I take a lot from that time, and it has definitely influenced my palette going forward.
Gallery MAR: Aside from the palette, what initially drew you to mid-century iconography?
James Wolanin: I’ve always had an interest in it, maybe from early childhood memories. I’ve always been fascinated with that time.
Gallery MAR: So how and when did you discover acrylic painting as your primary media?
James Wolanin: I discovered acrylic painting in art school. I was originally painting with oils, and I was also majoring in Graphic Design. I wanted to achieve a flat color that I just couldn’t get with oil, so when I discovered acrylic paint, it was one of those “ah-ha” moments where I realized it was just what I was looking for. I switched to acrylics from there, and I’ve been using them ever since.
Gallery MAR: Acrylic paint certainly lends itself well to your style of work with your crisp lines and vibrant colors. Could you chat a little bit about that transition from majoring in Graphic Design to deciding to become a painter?
James Wolanin: Well, I was majoring in Graphic Design, but I was also taking Fine Art classes, and as I was going through school, I realized that I was more interested in being a fine artist than a graphic designer, so I gradually shifted my focus.
Gallery MAR: What about being a fine artist was more compelling to you?
James Wolanin: I liked being able to create whatever I wanted – whatever came to mind – instead of being assigned a project and then creating for that project. I had free range to create whatever came to mind and to explore whatever avenues I wanted to go down, freely.
Gallery MAR: What else inspires you to create currently?
James Wolanin: I think I’m just a sponge, soaking up ideas everywhere. I get ideas from vintage magazines, from old photos, and from childhood memories. I’ll see something and it will spark an idea, and I’ll explore whatever that happens to be. I’m constantly thinking of layouts and ideas for paintings.
Gallery MAR: Speaking of, would you mind walking us briefly through that process from conception of an idea to finished painting?
James Wolanin: What I do is I make digital collages with my different ideas. I’ll think of an idea and then I’ll search for references for it. I change those references and piece them all together to make it my unique style. Then I’ll sketch it out from there. Eventually, it evolves into the final piece, but it typically always starts out as a collage.
Gallery MAR: Piecing together those references and making them your own, it seems that you then create these intriguing narratives in your work. Could you talk a little bit about that narrative quality in your work?
James Wolanin: There is a bit of a story there, but I like for the viewer to fill in the gaps of the story. I don’t spell everything out. It’s up to the viewer to interpret the work and turn it into whatever they want. That’s the beauty of it.
Gallery MAR: I love that. We’ve loved seeing the ways people have interpreted your work here in the gallery. What are you most excited about when it comes to showing your work here in Park City with Gallery MAR?
James Wolanin: I love the excitement for art that Gallery MAR has – they are really enthusiastic. Plus, going into a different market like Park City is exciting to me.
Gallery MAR: What are you currently most excited about in the studio?
James Wolanin: Usually what I’m most excited about is my next painting. Once I get my idea and I have things sketched out, I usually just get so excited about starting a new painting. Every painting is new, it’s different.
Interviewed and written by Veronica Vale