THE MAN BEHIND THE PALMS
Our founder sat down w/ friend + talent James Robert Durant to talk inspiration, technique + his Barbadian roots
If you’ve been one of our restaurants, chances are you’ve caught yourself staring at a large-format photograph of some really beautiful tropical scenescape: a humid pool scene in muggy Miami; palm trees lining the Hawaiian coast; a beachball flying above the sand.
All of those images were photographed and brought to life on large canvas by the same man — Toronto-based artist James Robert Durant. Last week, our founder Alan had a chance to catch up with him.
ALAN: Where did you grow up?
JAMES ROBERT DURANT: I was born and raised in Toronto (a little east, in suburban Scarborough to be exact). I’m a first generation Canadian with many generations before me born in Barbados.
AB: What impact, if any, do your Barbadian roots have on your work? You visit often?
JRD: My Bajan roots definitely have a substantial impact on my work. It started with clipping out family photos from old albums my parents had around the house. The imagery was nostalgic but also so different to the way I grew up (in Canada). Everything from charming old plantation houses to dated social customs captivated me. I started to paint and distress enlargements of these images, interpreting vintage memories with a renewing sense of life.
AB: Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you realized creating art was going to become a career?
JRD: I knew it was going to be a way of life for me from my first experience with creation. Music was a first calling. Growing up, I had the luxury of a basement studio and darkroom that was left to do as I please. I tinkered, collaborated, succeeded, failed, and learned. The satisfaction of surfacing a creation through a personal process was something challenging, natural and permanent. At this point, if I’m not working on projects I feel very unbalanced.
AB: Tropical scenescapes are your specialty. In the 70’s, Slim Aarons showed the world that sunshine was beautiful and more recently a handful of photographers have popularized the bird’s eye beach shot. How do you keep your work unique in a space where it seems like everybody wants to rent helicopters and shoot fly-by shots of colourful umbrellas?
JRD: There’s certainly a trend right now. My aerial works began in 2006. I started photographing at a ground-view perspective and graduated to higher elevations and longer distances. Ironically, I was putting more distance between my camera and people in my frame in order to focus on their behaviour and impact on surroundings. In 2008, my subject matter led me to chartered flights in the sky. The work remained an observation of “vacation behaviour” but naturally evolved into aerial perspectives on vacationers and vacation spots. It was a different time then. Drones didn’t exist and there was no aerial perspective of tropical landscape in the forefront of the contemporary art world.
AB: In my opinion, the finish on your pieces (that thick acrylic coating you apply) is what makes your work extra special. Trade secret or can you tell us a little bit about the method involved?
JRD: Mastering the high-gloss technique has taken years of experience. I am just as particular with my finishing as I am with my imagery. The finish also lends itself the overall aesthetic and idea behind the work. Technically speaking, I can say there are several secrets, tricks, and requirements to perfecting this technique. I keep that info in the studio :-)
AB: How can people get their hands on one of your pieces?
JRD: My work is available to view on my website (www.jamesrobertdurant.com). My studio, in downtown Toronto, is always open for appointment visits. You can also view and purchase my work at Muse Gallery in Toronto (www.musegallery.ca) and at The Art Gallery of Ontario Sales Gallery at the A.G.O. (www.ago.net/artsales).