James Tisdale’s ceramic sculpture is a construct of personal iconography, referencing the cultural, social, political and religious experiences of growing up in Mississippi. Although his work often employs humor, it is often poignant, and sometimes unapologetically confrontational. The artworks challenge what is considered socially acceptable or beautiful, and the condemnation of what is perceived to be ugly and undesirable. For him, the intrigue lies not only within the borders of these interpretations but also in how these labels can influence a lifelong attitude. The work explores how social conscripts and learned behavior shapes our lives sometime for the good, and sometimes malignantly; how it is sometime difficult to recognize which side of the line you are on; and that beauty and ugliness can coexist in us all.
Mostly James uses his work as a conduit through which he communicates his own narrative. “This my language.” He explains. “It is built for me, made for me, created for me. It’s about expressing emotions and thoughts that are hard to put into words - I guess that’s why I am a visual artist. It’s a protective way of me putting myself out there without being totally understood – and that’s okay. It is a protective way of me being able to speak.” He purposely leaves the interpretation of the work to the viewer saying, “People get what they get, they see what they see. They can approach it with a want of understanding, but I’m not going to reign it in with a description - because I don’t want to put blinders on them. We have different points in our lives that we are going to come to experience artwork and I want people to see what they want to see.”
James first began to sculpt figures in Grad school at the University of Georgia. He arrived as a potter but transitioned to sculpture as a process of dealing with his father’s death. His father died shortly after his arrival at the art school and he stopped making pots and began making drawings. His professor told him he didn’t have to make pots anymore and that he should start building figures from his drawings. He hadn’t trained in hand building sculpture, his past studies being based around the potters’ wheel; and the hands-off nature of Grad school necessitated that he learn through his own trial and error.
James’ pieces are constructed using various methods with a heavy grog white clay body. Most are coil built, but recently he has created a series of slip-cast works. Once the form is established, the surface is then finished with several layers of underglazes, stains, and glazes. With each added layer, the work is subjected to another firing. His historical art influences range widely from the figurative art works of the Renaissance, to the personally powerful folk art of the south.