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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


During the ’80s, your paintings were selling like hotcakes, and it seems just as your career was about to hit a new level, you stepped back from it. Why?

Well ... I did begin a bit of a concerted effort to try and facilitate that “new level” with mailings to institutions, connections, etc. At the same time, I was becoming disinterested in the cycle I was in of painting and showing. I felt that there was something missing. I was getting some rejections. I’m not set back by rejection too seriously. It comes with the territory. In fact, I’ve always had the sense of being an outsider in all art career transactions, and so acceptance—though in the aggregate I’ve been very fortunate—has always seemed a pleasant surprise. It was just that at some point during this push, I was struck by a palpable distaste of the effort. I saw that it was sapping joy directly from the activity—the making of visual images, the immersion in a language—that I felt incredibly lucky to have discovered. I felt it was important to examine my motives, and although I could nominally make a case for wanting to reach a wider audience (or make more money) I realized I was being compelled, ultimately, by ego, and there was an odd aspect of unquestioning adherence to a career momentum that felt strongly like “selling out” for the first time. It suddenly felt like the wrong direction to follow. I decided I needed to regroup and find the joy. I stepped away and moved into music.

Did your music sidetrack you?

No. Music allowed me to step back.  Music provided me with a fresh avenue for creativity. Music allowed me to work with musicians, who tend to be amongst my favorite people. I felt like I could work absolutely baggage-free and I’ve gotten to work with and become friends with some amazing players.

Pseudo-Buddha was a very popular band in San Antonio’s art scene, and your music has been included in some impressive compilation CDs. So many of San Antonio’s visual artists are also ridiculously good musicians, I was wondering if making music stimulates a different area of the brain, or if it’s just another way of releasing creativity. What do you think?

I approach making music and making visual art with the same mindset. It feels all the same, creatively, to me. In my case, I’ve either worked on solo projects or in collaboration with groups that were essentially committed to improvisation. Each performance was a new piece with real-time creative problem solving and collaboration. The process of music and visual art might personally feel less alike if I were more involved with groups that repeated pieces more often (ever) or especially groups that have a well-rehearsed set list.

If you had to choose between making music and making art, which would you choose?

Wow. What a lousy choice. OK, if I had to chose between the making of art and the making of music I would choose to continue to make art. I’m not entirely sure I could actually quit making visual images, but I find it relatively easy to not play music. However, if I had to choose between viewing visual art (the static sort … not film, right?) and listening to music, I’d probably let the art go.

The Arts Issue
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