“My creative process is absolutely meditative, especially when the work is flowing well. The prose world may enter from time to time, but most of my mixed media work involves a silent communion between me and the stacks of images and bins of objects that surround me in my studio.”
It’s a tale of two coasts for multimedia artist James Putnam Abbot. Eight months of the year find him on task among found objects mixing media in his studio, a former church/meeting house in Rockland, along the mid-coast of Maine. There, he uses his eyes and his hands to inject new life into the discarded. The other four months of his calendar unfold in the Sunshine State. Along Florida’s gold coast his studio is more a study in mobility where the new iPhone 7 and a handful of apps serve as the engine for his photographic explorations. Both shores invite, for him, presence. In that flow he traces and recomposes the many treasures of Palm Beach County’s streets – the tropical palette, its flat roofs, the nautical. And, when the springtime ushers him back to New England he again seizes that heightened state of awareness shifting from shutter speeds and such over to wood, stone, wire, metals, wax in the practice of repurposing.
Abbott holds his BA from Carleton College, an MS from City College of New York, and a JD from Cardozo Law School. His photographs and his mixed media sculptures have been displayed in gallery and museum venues nationally, and his work is held in many private collections. It was through his studies (in the late 1980’s) at the Maryland Institute College of Art that he began his serious exploration of image-making. In later years, Abbott’s creative focus shifted to three-dimensional work, and he began creating pieces for wall display (as well as for garden installation) and also display vehicles for the signature images he has captured over four decades of work on film and in digital formats. James is also the author of the 2009 book Confessions of Desire and Proverbs of Hell which features 70 proverbs and 70 images.
We caught up with Jim along Clematis Street in West Palm Beach over a speck ham and arugula pizza and some tasty craft cocktails at Hullaballo – one of his favorite seasonal haunts. Long ago and far away are his protracted days of practicing law as a contract attorney in the Washington DC area, then as an Assistant Attorney General in Maryland. He swapped all that for a milder rhythm over twenty years ago, and he hasn’t looked back. “I have been a lot of different things (lawyer, teacher, entrepreneur, game inventor), but now I am finally doing what I wanted to do all the time, making art.” See more of Jim’s work and keep current with his teaching schedule through his website. And follow him on Instagram.
do your days unfold in poetry or prose?
Having spent a regrettably large part of my life on the prose side of this option, I’m happy to report that now poetry wins out, not only (and especially) in my studio, but also at home with my partner Joyce, who is on a spiritual quest, and carries me along in her powerful search of deeper connections. Prose is needed for details; poetry is why we even bother with the details.
share with us a few essential ingredients that must be in place when you are making art.
For me, after a lifetime of artificial deadlines and intrusive phone calls, the key is freedom: freedom to start something new when the last project (or last six projects) remains incomplete; freedom to make something without any thought as to whether anyone might like it other than me; freedom to indulge a perverse sense of humor and keep a twinkle in my eye; and freedom to allow my inner secrets to slip out into the work without fear of censorship or shame.
do your creative pursuits offer any meditative qualities? do they in some way provide you a chance to breathe?
My creative process is absolutely meditative, especially when the work is flowing well. The prose world may enter from time to time, but most of my mixed media work involves a silent communion between me and the stacks of images and bins of objects that surround me in my studio. I often feel an object calls out to me from its hidden place and explains why it belongs in THIS piece at THIS moment. Naturally, to hear such a voice one has to be quiet, peaceful, and quite wide awake at the same time. Of course, a process like this is all about making space to breathe and taking time to breathe.
what two or three books are you never without?
I often look at the work of artists who give me courage because of their own bold visions. Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, Paul Delvaux, Jan Saudek, Paul Klee… Well, the list goes on. For inspirational words, I listen to Leonard Cohen and read Peter Matthiessen and Philip Roth.
without question your favorite place on the planet to experience or consume art?
The coast of Maine, where every morning is a revelation and every junk shop is packed with rusted treasures.
finish the following sentence? i’d like to teach the world to… see beauty in common things.