July 21


Originally published July 21, 2016…

It’s never so beautifully black and white.

For the second year, Madison Marquette has sponsored a public art initiative along the waterfront curated by Jenn Hampton of Parlor Gallery.

“Last year’s waterfront art program was so successful, we are thrilled to have it continue,” said Hampton.  “Twelve artists have been selected for the 2016 Wooden Walls Project, including mural installations and, for the first time, a performance art piece.  We hope this further adds to the uniqueness and beauty of our city.”

2015’s program became one of the most successful viral marketing tourism awareness-building campaigns, with almost 100,000 images shared via social media from Israel to the United Kingdom.

One of the 12 artists selected for this year’s project is James Vance, Asbury Park resident. I spoke with Vance about his recently completed installation “#1871”, a spectacular, seductive, mantra-like black and white mural of hand-painted numbers on a section of the Sunset Pavilion.  Vance’s incredible installation is one to be consumed from different points of view; far away from the beach, the piece is dramatically different than from close-up.

TBP:  Because your installation subject consists of universally relatable numbers, it draws viewers of every age and background to it.  Once they come closer, you see them digest the piece and develop their own interpretation.

Vance:  My numbers pieces began as large-scale, interior wall drawings for Barneys New York on Madison Avenue and Beverly Hills in the early 1990’s. I’m drawn to the precision of numbers and the vast amounts of information their sequencing can convey.  After a long break, I returned to the subject of numbers in 2015.

TBP:  Why sequential numbers?

Vance:  The first four digits in the upper left corner of every piece is the title.  In this case, “1871 is the year Asbury Park was founded. I wanted this installation to be a love letter to the city.  Then I slowly went from there to complete the 12’ by 12’ piece over the course of four days.

Artists Brad Hoffer and James Vance install their murals on the Sunset Avenue Pavilion. Photo Billy Mecca.

Artists Brad Hoffer and James Vance install their murals on the Sunset Avenue Pavilion earlier this month. Photo courtesy Billy Mecca.

Using the paintbrush feels like knitting or weaving to me.  I let the numbers flow out of my brain onto the surface like meditation or chanting.  As the numbers float through, I see what comes up.  Sometimes there are good dates or bad dates that represent times in my life or even phone numbers or passcodes – all kinds of data.  Some of it means something to me and sometimes it means something to someone else I know.  The numbers could have to do with anything… or nothing.  There is also meaning in the numbers that are not there.

That said, the personal meanings people attach to “#1871” or any of my work is very important to me and integral to the success of the piece. I want the viewer to enjoy the mural on any level.  They can go as deep, or not, as they want to.  If it just serves as a selfie background, it all works for me.

There is a subconscious portrait being painted through my interpretation of data mining.  Data mining is not about any one specific number, it’s about the huge picture it represents when someone puts it all together.  I’m horrified to think that because of data mining everything in the future will be tailored to mass appeal and we will lose customization and tailoring.

With this work I turn the tables a bit. I’m mining my own data and putting it out in the world. I’m revealing something about myself in code – covertly pouring out my soul.  Like going naked in public but no one seeing you.  It’s fun.  I’ve always been into 70’s conceptual art, graphic design, and graffiti tags; this work is an ode to all three.  This is my own version of street art.

TBP:  At one point in your life your art was the backdrop for fancy-pants merchandise. Today, everyone from joggers to sunburned tourists take a moment to digest your art.

Vance:  This mural has been such a positive experience.  I loved connecting with people while I was painting it.  The piece was affected by the people who would stop me to talk while it was in-process. Now, I love that people who would never step into an art gallery get access to amazing artists like Pork Chop, Brad Hoffer and others.

More about Vance at JamesVanceStudio.com.