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Arts & Culture

Artist on Artist: Gary Sweeney interviews James Cobb

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

James Cobb “with ants” (left) and a very uncomfortable Gary Sweeney

I can never get enough of James Cobb’s artwork. He’s yet another local artist whose work is extremely smart, complex and underappreciated. At a stage in his life where many artists are happy to coast along, James continues to explore and expand his work, and his recent experiments with printmaking from files are drop-dead gorgeous. His work is that rare and refreshing combination of intelligence and craftsmanship.

I’m not a big believer in cosmic coincidences, but while interviewing James, I was struck by some eerie parallels in our lives (cue The Twilight Zone music): We both grew up drawing Big Daddy Roth and Murph the Surf cartoons. We were both heavily involved in the Mail Art movement of the ’70s. His brother is a surfing buddy of my best friend from college. I was in Eugene, Ore., the summer he moved there. In the first exhibit I was in with him, at the old Wong Spot, we both showed paintings featuring tattoo images.

I caught up with him at his home studio.

Most of the artists I’ve interviewed set a course toward a career in art at an early age, then focused on a calculated path towards that goal. You seem to have sort of drifted into an art career rather late in life. How’d that happen?

Yes, drifted. Although I loved to draw, and did so constantly growing up, I had no real awareness of art beyond the likes of Big Daddy Roth, Murph the Surf and the rock posters of the Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms. It was the rock poster art I aspired to create—work that cobbled together music, general weirdness and deviance, with some social commentary. A heady mix.

I was introduced to a much broader overview of art, history, practice and possibilities through my wife, Rhoda, who I met as Rhoda Mappo in Eugene, Ore., in the late ’70s. She was an active artist who, at the time, was deeply immersed in Mail Art. I leapt right into it and spent much of the next decade networking, collaborating, exhibiting and eventually world-traveling to meet a number of fellow Mail Artists. I eventually entered into an art “career” as an experiment, basically, to see if there was any potential for a compromise-free marriage between my drive to work visually and income generation.

Were there one or two decisions you made that completely changed the course of your life? 

Floating along seemed just fine. Remember, you and I came of age in a time of substantial economic security. I didn’t have much fear of unemployment—didn’t have much fear, period. I think there have been a few decisions that changed the course of my life. Going to technical school and studying drafting and then working as a draftsman was an important skill set and experience for me. Involving myself in a very iconoclastic aspect of the art world, Mail Art, was a major turning point. Another decision that proved important was moving  to Texas. I began my art “career” experiment here in San Antonio without any clue that Texas was one of the better places to be conducting that experiment. Though the art scene in Texas seemed straighter, the gallery scene was where it was at. With a number of large cities and a decent collector base, Texas was a happy accident for me.

The Arts Issue
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