in conversation: @AltJamesA & @Labelsonhumans

Michael aka @Labelsonhumans is a self taught artist. His creative focus has migrated from furniture design to find a home making digital abstracts.

James aka @AltJamesA is a Fine Artist turned designer, turned digital artist. He’s exhibited in France and UK with work in physical collections around the world

James and Michael met on Twitter both at the start of their forays into the world of cryptoart

In conversation

LabelsOnHumans Digital art always felt like an ‘add-on’ at exhibitions, fairs and galleries whose primary focus was on something other than what I identified with. It seemed less valid, somehow.

Recently I heard about crypto art and blockchain and it blew me away. It put what I was doing, i.e. making digital art into context and everything at once seemed so natural.

How about you James?

altjames Been making all sorts of digital art for quite a while and it was the abstract stuff I’ve made since 2016 that felt ‘real and personal’. I’d been working with some blockchain experts and one of the business owners sent a link to one of the portals. It just seemed to fit. This was only at the start of 2021.

I find digital abstraction a rare thing in crypto. That’s how I found you, through your work and your aesthetic. Tell me about your digital abstraction.

LabelsOnHumans I’m self taught so my influences are random but my main motivation is to make something that I haven’t seen before, something that surprises me, that is beautiful and has a sense of joy about it. I wouldn’t call it digital painting as I use the editing tools more than the brushes to make marks and details. My work is specific to the medium.

Your work is instantly recognisable as yours. How long did it take you to develop that visual vocabulary and how did it come about?

No65 from the 10x10 Xs Series by AltJames. 2021

altjames It started at art school, I repetitively redrew the same subject (landscape) and reduced down to a set of symbols and marks. When I returned to painting about 10 years ago, I experimented a lot, but it made more sense to continue with that language using digital tools. Back in the day (pre-computer), I drew on sooted glass and contact printed images in the darkroom. Today I find I’m still drawing on glass, but it’s now an ipad.

One of my favourite artists — Howard Hodgkin — uses very indicative titles that lead the viewer to read a work which appears initially abstract, into reading in a figurative light. I like this in abstract works (although HH would have rejected that he was abstract). You have some interesting titles: ‘That Plumb’, ‘Micky Meditates’, ‘Obscured in a Great forest’. Etc. How do you arrive at these? Are they personal references or do you intend to lead the viewer somewhere?

That Plumb. 2020. By Labelsonhumans Giclee print on 260gsm Gloss Cotton rag paper. Limited Edition of 20. 594mm x 420 mm

LabelsOnHumans. Yes, what is it about glass? I thought that as my influences are pre-internet that all of the interesting and beautiful things that I saw were on a screen of some kind; TV, cinema and illuminated billboard. Working digitally maintains that illuminated richness that I first saw and fell in love with. If I ever paint it will be onto glass, the physical texture of paint doesn’t interest me in the slightest.

My titles refer to what was on my mind when I made each piece. So, for example ‘that plumb’ is the colour of a scarf I saw someone wearing, ‘Micky Meditates’ is me being preoccupied with the art market whilst simultaneously trying to forget it. And, because I’ve been in lockdown for too long, I’d just read Dante’s Divine Comedy and the forest thing is from there — and my love of the Derbyshire countryside that I’ve not been to for ages. I think my next piece might be called ‘Step away from the cookies, you dick.’

What is it about painting that you left behind?

altjames Yes glass. Shiny, flat, super-smooth surface. Smoother than you can get with paint. Today we see images on screens more than we do on painted surfaces. It’s just — well, more modern. I’d really like a large wall mounted picture frame that you can beam an image to. Change it when you like. I’ve not projected my stuff yet, and had mixed results with printing technology. As for paint — I don’t miss the brush cleaning! I feel like I’ve left behind a whole lot of history that’s no longer relevant. Trouble is, the art world is still stuck on — in the main — art objects made of materials that are well over 500 years old. (Oil on canvas, charcoal, terracotta, marble).

Talking of materials and tools. What are yours? Apps? Desktop PC? Tablet?

LabelsOnHumans Worry not about the display/exhibition issues. It’s only a matter of time before ‘paper thin’ screens are available. I read some research and they’re about 80% there. It’s like we’ll be making work that’s ‘in’ the canvas rather than on ‘it’. Can’t wait. That said, I’ve just printed onto aluminium and I’m really happy with the results.

My go-to for making Art is iPad Pro and Procreate, which I love, but depending on where each piece is going I sometimes jump onto MacBook, assorted Apps and/or retrieve things from my phone. User experience is massively important to me. I’m after enjoyment and satisfaction and surprise when I make art. I don’t want to feel like I’m hooked up to some soul destroyer doing its own thing.

How do you feel about ‘physical’ copies of your work? Necessary or not?

alt james When these paper flat screens come in that you talk about, then no, it’s not necessary; but right now they’re an optional add-on. My current project has a handful of owners, I’m doing a ‘combination’ print for all primary buyers, but it’s hard to contact people with just a wallet address. I’m still doing it though — I love print, seeing something come off the press for the first time is always satisfying, like seeing a great photo emerge in the dark room, there’s something magical. I hate framing though, it’s a faff. But printing on aluminium dibond is great — it has no frame, floats on the wall and has a shiny flat surface rather like a screen, so fits well with me. I think I’ve pre-ordered one of yours haven’t I!? I have to have stuff on my walls, I’m always shocked by people on TV that have no art in their space whatsoever.

Have you ever had gallerists support you? What do you think NFTs mean for galleries?

LabelsOnHumans Never once has my art graced the walls of any art gallery. And I totally understand why. Each gallery has worked very hard on their brand. ‘Who is this person coming from nowhere with his prints and nifties?’ I’ve not been around long enough to show them consistency and quality of work. This takes time and it’s right that it should. I think that traditional art galleries have already started to see the potential of the NFT market.

altjames That surprises me, your work is so ‘complete’. Hopefully the NFT world will give you the visibility you deserve. I think digital stuff is finally getting its moment, but having one foot in both camps — physical prints and purely digital is where it will be at until the masses start to ‘get it’. At the moment it’s the extreme cases, high sellers etc and the negative press around Bitcoin that people are aware of. I’m seeing a lot of people paying off debts. Artists making money out of art in their lifetime — who knew that that might be a thing?

Labelsonhumans I think and hope that there’ll always be a place for the physical manifestation of NFT art. Will there ever be a time when people no longer want to put things on their wall to, at the very least, enhance the place? Why should that wall space be reserved for painting, drawing and photography etc? Digital fine art is an evolutionary step, it’s what oil was to egg-tempera, and will function in exactly the same way as traditional fine art.

We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that all the current NFT hysteria is about the capacity to own something digital and unique and for the creator to remain a significant beneficiary of the funds arising from the production of their work in a decentralized metaverse. We’re miles away from the idea of cryptoart receiving a similar appraisal to that of painting, photography and drawing. ‘Crypto’ is something separate from ‘fine’. I think that the way that the NFT is displayed will ultimately influence how it is received. Paper-thin LED screens are on the way, until then it’s basically computer, tablet, phone or paper which to me, feel like borrowed surfaces.

alt james Yes, we’re miles away from that. But on the other hand I read that the profile of the bidders on the Beeple auction at Christie’s was completely different from their conventional clients. They’re’ mostly unheard of by Christies, mostly younger (under 35) Millennials etc. So maybe things will change quicker. It needs to, because in comparison, the art world seems to be dead, or static and fusty, run by entrenched old farts and it’s no longer exciting and cutting edge or appealing. (That might be cynical old me though!)

I’ve heard some quite cutting criticisms from conventional (and established) artists, historians, and critics about NFTs and digital art — and it’s not even started yet! Whatever happened to having an open mind?

Talking of new and exciting. I bought No1 of your ‘Japa’ series — where did that idea come from and why the circular format? (I’m looking forward to having my dibond print on the wall).

Japa 1. 2021 by Labelsonhumans NFT owned by AltJames

Labelsonhumans Yes you did! You’re very shrewd and I’m very grateful. I kept seeing instances of those colours randomly appearing together whilst walking down the street or on TV etc so I ended up using them. I just wanted to get away from posts with corners for a while and there’s something ‘pop!’ about using a circle which I thought was appropriate to NFTs. I think the circular format guides the eye around the image really well too. We must be old-school, I want to put yours on the wall as well!

altjames What’s interesting with the circle is there’s no ‘up’? Maybe we are just old school with our attachment to things on walls. I guess millennials don’t all have walls to put their art on, so virtual art fits them. Talking of putting on walls. Someone just bought 3 of mine to put in a virtual gallery. I guess you’re supposed to look at their collection through Oculus Rift or similar 3D kit. I didn’t get it at first, but I guess it makes perfect sense, digital art for digital walls.It’s interesting seeing someone’s ‘taste’ and a digital collection all in one space. I think it’s the first gallery I’ve visited for a year!

10x10 Xs in the #switch16gallery
Image courtesy of @monk36kfu Visit here

Michael and James conversed virtually through a shared Google docs ‘conversation’ throughout March 2021. Subedited by Sam Flavin.


Alt James’s 10x10 Xs series

Artist, designer, typographer, curator. Digitally-native paintings. Ex Camberwell School of Art. UK/France. $ETH $SOL. Probably ngmi.