James C. Herman (b. Denver, CO., 1985) is an artist working between sculpture, painting, and printmaking. Herman’s painted works include process-based, abstract plywood pieces, functioning alongside a critical homesteading practice. Literally and figuratively meditating on processes of repetitive labor, Herman offers a utopian formal and ecological perspective by foregrounding off-the-grid building methods, repurposed materials, and a simultaneously thoughtful and cheeky modernist referentiality. Across media, his works propagate intentional domestic practices through piecemeal, communal, revelation.
In Herman’s plywood paintings, laborious etching processes unearth intricate patterns: vivid, maze-like tunnels echoing the subterranean folds of termite colonies. Artist John Emison situates the series in relation to Frank Stella’s “Black Paintings,” noting that “the panels waver between sculptural relief and painting as they shrug off subjective composition-making and emphasize their own tautological self-formation.” Herman’s excavation of the rhizomatic patterns of his plywood canvases references his foundations in woodblock printmaking. Evident in one of the mantras accompanying the paintings, “Everything we will ever need is right here,” is an underlying ethos of revelation—not as an act of individual discovery, but an embodied belief in the abundance of what already exists, opensource.
Herman takes inspiration from counterculture and fringe systems of living; his works riff off of modernist back-to-the-land movements while developing off-grid systems, building a poetics surrounding the possibility within inhabited space in addition to the utility of architectural form. Through his self-described life-studio philosophy, the formal edge of Herman’s abstract paintings rematerializes as a commitment to forms whose process is evident in their aesthetic dimensions: the works physically exceed their own frame while simultaneously highlighting its function.
An outcropping of Herman’s installation practice, Earth Pizza, reveals the underlying lightheartedness weaving through his work at large. The kiln-based pizza pop up, a monthly convening co-organized with Jack Rammuni, offers communally activated space as art in and of itself: hierarchies between art making and gardening, building, and upkeep decompose. Similar to the small patch of grass perched between wooden panels in the roof of Herman’s architectural sculpture Even a blind man knows when the sun is shining (yellow studio addition), something green grows in the eves of a hand-built shed and in the full bellies of strangers sharing pizza.
James Herman was born in Denver, Colorado in 1985. He studied at the Yale Norfolk School of Art in 2010 and received a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Oregon in 2011. His work has appeared in solo shows “Island” and “Glass Island Studio” at Ibid Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, and in group exhibitions at Scranch, Joshua Tree, CA; HOLIDAY, Los Angeles, CA; Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Roberts and Tilton, Los Angeles, CA; Matéria, Rome; Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma, CA; the Henry Ford Museum, Detroit, MI; and the Rio Gallery, Salt Lake City, UT. His book Driftwood Forts of the Oregon Coast was published by Nestucca Spit Press in 2014. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.