James Cochran, aka Jimmy C, (b. 1973) played a key role in the development of the underground graffiti movement in Australia during the early 1990s, and has a Masters degree in Visual Arts from the University of South Australia. His interests in graffiti, urban realist and figurative oil painting have converged over time, leading to the development of his signature aerosol pointillist style. Cochran now lives in London.
When I first observed the coloured graphic formations along the train line as an adolescent, I was fascinated by the mystery of how these things got there. I was instantly drawn in, and it was on the Belair line in Adelaide where I was to first leave my mark.
I was pushing my personal boundaries and in a sense my artistic boundaries when I was painting graffiti as an adolescent, however I did not really consider it art back then. We were too caught up in the moment and it was a spontaneous, reactionary, and rebellious way to paint. Later in art school I was able to consider the broader context of painting, which then changed my approach. I have since been attempting to reconnect to the raw essence of painting on the street.
Losing my mother in a car accident at the age of 12 gave me a new sense of introspection and a gradual appreciation of the creative process. Turning to the streets to paint graffiti helped me find meaning and a sense of identity when I needed it most. The older I got the more I was able to understand and trust in the creative process. It is about valuing life and giving something back.
I have come to realise that my personality is inherently linked to my art, and perhaps it is the same for all other artists, which even relates to the way you use colour. Sometimes I have taken various detours to go where I think I should be going with my art, but in the end it always comes back to the essence of who I am. One of my early paintings when I was 14 years old was a strange surrealist painting of a figure in the desert holding onto a massive human heart floating in the sky held by a thread. The heart is now again reappearing in my work. My first oil painting was a self-portrait in an empty red hen train carriage, the seated figure with his head in his hands. Sixteen years later when I was living in Paris I painted a self-portrait sleeping in a train which I called Metro Dreaming. I like the way themes can return for an artist and the cyclical nature of the creative process.
The other day I received an email from a girl in Berlin that almost moved me to tears. It was concerning a painting that I had painted over there, that according to her had stopped her in her tracks on the way to her weekly dance class on a day when she was feeling particularly down. She said she was late for her class that day because she just stared and smiled at the painting, and went on to say that after seeing it each week it has given her strength and optimism when she needed it most. It moved me because it was a work that I had put a lot of effort into and I had really hoped to convey a sense of beauty with it, so to receive an email like that 4 months later felt like someone had understood something in the painting which I had hoped to communicate. Reaching that one person was enough for me, and on reading that email I suddenly felt very humbled and honoured to have been able to reach someone and communicate through my art.
Graffiti in a gallery has been removed from its original context but in this space it may find a new audience and also be preserved. Graffiti on the street for me is more powerful, but also more vulnerable, often ephemeral, which ultimately adds to its vitality and power. It loses these qualities in the gallery context.
The graffiti culture tended to be a male dominated subculture, a kind of masculine rite of passage based on risk and identity, whereas the newer street art movement is all-embracing, and it is great that you will find almost as many women as men involved.
Graffiti and street art can also be a powerful means of social change. It has the ability to transmit a direct message on the street and to the public. Community based projects can create social change through the involvement of the participants themselves and what they can learn through the process, whether that be the techniques themselves, or through working together to create something, or in conveying a message through the artwork. The social changes that may occur through these projects are sometimes difficult to measure, but it will open the participants to new ideas and experiences, and can sometimes even guide them towards their own artistic path.