Rotten Sun: An Interview With Belgian Musician and Artist Joris Van de Moortel

Joris Van de Moortel, 31, has intrusive bluish-gray eyes. They are unsettling; despite the subdued kindness that surrounds them. Looking in to them one realizes Moortel doesn’t see the same boundaries most of us do, the boundaries that most of us construct our lives around.

Moortel smashes, sometimes literally, the line between art and music. He is both musician and artist and the two feed off one another. Moortel makes mixed media pieces that often incorporate elements of his musical performances; a guitar he smashed on stage the night before, panels from a stage he played on. Sometimes the work comes after a performance; sometimes it’s made during.

The Belgian artist wriggled his way in to art school at 12 years old when he started following a friend’s father to night classes. Moortel graduated from the Higher Institute of Fine Art in Ghent Belgium in 2009. In his early 20’s Moortel sold his first piece through a gallery in Belgium. From that point on he devoted himself entirely to his work. Most everything in Moortel’s world is about simultaneity. At the same time that he was a child drawing nudes he taught himself to play the harmonica, guitar, bass and keys. At the same time that he began selling artwork he was performing in solo shows and with a variety of bands throughout Europe. At the same time that he became an artist he became a rocker.

Moortel stole the spotlight of the European art scene in 2012 when he had his first solo show at the Le Transpalette art center in Bourges, France. In 2014 he performed in an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris titled “Don’t Know You’re Gonna Mess Up the Carpet,’ in which he stood atop a tube with a drummer inside and conducted a mind-bending rock performance involving video screens and neon lights.  Moortel had his ‘coming out’ in the American art world this December at Art Basel Miami where he had his first solo exhibition in the US through the Denis Gardarin Gallery. Days before he had an exhibition open at the Contemporary Art Center of Wargem in Belgium. Next he is off to Madrid for a solo show at the Galerie Nathalie Obadia. In May he’ll come to New York for Frieze art fair. In between he sneaks back to Antwerp to spend time with his young children and maybe get around to cleaning his studio.

SCOUTMACEACHRON: Tell me about your Art Basel exhibition?

JORIS VAN DE MOORTEL: During the making of this exhibition I was also working on a big museum solo show in Belgium which opened the day before I left for Miami. There’s a lot of overlap between those two exhibitions. Like the installation here [gestures to house-like structure]; the one in Belgium is the size of this area [gestures to entire exhibition space]. It’s huge. The drawings in this exhibition are related to the one in Belgium; one is related to a CD recording I did and the other is related to a solo vinyl I did.

MACEACHRON: When you say related to, what do you mean by that?

MOORTEL: This part of the work is part of the exhibition in Belgium but it’s much bigger with real actual speakers that work. These [Gestures to artwork] are casted speakers in resin. All the works here are muted. Nothing makes any sound anymore. These pieces, the back of this piece [Gestures to artwork] also contains speakers but it’s muted. Most of my pieces come from performances. Like this one is part of a stage from a performance I did in Belgium, Singapore and Paris. It is just one part of twelve panels that made up the whole stage. I sprayed it white with an air press gun. And the last one I did was a collaboration with the designers A.F. Vandevorst for a fashion show in Paris. This piece contains elements of the performance; part of the coat I was wearing, speakers, the effects I’m using, neon which is running through the piece.

MACEACHRON: When and why did you start incorporating these objects that are a part of your life, a part of your performances, in to your work?

MOORTEL: I don’t think about it in that kind of sense. I mean it’s all part of the studio. My studio is on the one hand a music studio but sometimes it’s more. At times I’m busy with music and then it shifts. All my wood, all my materials are there; the welding machines, the steel, the aluminum, the cast materials. It’s all in one studio. The performances play a part also, it really depends. Sometimes [the performances] come first and the sculptures come after. Sometimes it’s a part of it from the beginning. Sometimes the work is made during the performance.

MACEACHRON: Tell me about your musical background?

MOORTEL: It goes from age ten or twelve. That was the first time I really hit music, not only listening to it but that was the moment it really becomes important. Then of course I immediately wanted to play it myself but I never wanted to or didn’t take the time or wasn’t patient enough to take classes. Friends of mine did. I started out with the mouth harp and guitar, bass guitar.

MACEACHRON : Did you teach yourself?

MOORTEL: Yeah and friends taught me things. It took quite a few years. Now I play in quite a few bands. For me it’s hard to say something like or hear, “oh you’re a good guitar player, you’re a good bass player.” I would never consider myself like that because I’m not an academic, I didn’t study it. I collaborate with a lot of other musicians. Now I play guitar, sometimes the keys and sometimes also bass guitar in one specific band.

MACEACHRON: Do you remember what music you listened to when you were ten or twelve years old?

MOORTEL: The Doors.

MACEACHRON: Any particular album?

MOORTEL: All of them on vinyl, all of them on CD. I had t-shirts. I had a vest with Jim Morrison on the back. Had I been allowed to get a tattoo at age of fourteen in Belgium I would have had Jim Morrison on my back. I was completely, completely in to that. Also a lot of sixties and seventies music from San Francisco and LA. Then Velvet Underground, the New York scene. Patti Smith, Ramones. All very sixties and seventies.

MACEACHRON: Wow, advanced for a ten-year-old.

MOORTEL: [Laughs] Yeah, I know.

MACEACHRON: Did you go to art school?

MOORTEL: Yeah, when I think about it that’s why I didn’t want to study music. I started when I was twelve. A friend of mine, her father was going to an art school during the evenings and weekends. He was studying sculpture and had a sculpture studio. I asked, “please, could I join you, could you teach me?” It wasn’t really allowed until you’re eighteen but I said, “I really want to.” So I started drawing nude models for years. It was a lot of clay and plaster. I started welding at that age. I kept doing that until I was fifteen and then I went to an art school. I kept going to the other school as well. So that was my only occupation, drawing a lot of nude models, clay studies and painting.

MACEACHRON: So you weren’t studying normal school subjects at all?

MOORTEL: In Belgium you can go to an art school from when you’re fourteen. You get regular classes like math and language and everything but reduced in a way. Your focus is on art. Then I kept on going to art school for high school. When I went to University it was also art school.

MACEACHRON: The type of work you make now, how did that evolve from drawing nudes?

MOORTEL: Well you have all those study years. The way of working is only a growing thing. When you grow up as a human being it’s the same kind of thing I think. A major shift was around twenty, twenty-two when I started building installations. The first exhibitions were mainly installations, not really focused on sculptures or wall pieces or paintings. And then this took over again, by making sculptures again in to what I’m doing now. But it depends on museum shows and institutions. It’s all part of the same thing but you show a different chapter of something.

MACEACHRON: What’s your process like when you’re creating? What’s your studio like?


MACEACHRON: [Laughs] Do you sit around and think about things or do they just come to you? [Joris walks away and returns with glasses of water for us both.] Do you know something is going to be in your work when you see it?

MOORTEL: Like certain elements or parts?

MACEACHRON : Yeah, how do you get from nothing to that [point to one of his artworks]?

MOORTEL: Most of the, for example the basis of this kind of piece they come from really big installations. So the frame is already there some how. Like this frame was apart of the stage. So the frame is there. And it wasn’t the intent, I mean those frames I didn’t use them for two years after the performance. Also with these [gestures to artwork] they traveled from my show in the Netherlands in a museum then to Berlin then to Paris and then back to studio. I almost wanted to throw them away but I kept them for some reason and then they were the first pieces for a gallery show I was working on at Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Brussels. They got really well received. From one thing comes another. A lot of pieces travel from show to show and don’t get sold and then eventually they end up in another piece. Mostly the moment it gets sold that’s where it leaves me so I can’t redo it or whatever. When pieces come back to the studio they don’t leave out the same way.

MACEACHRON: So everything is constantly evolving, including yourself, I suppose that’s the nature of art. Did you go through a starving artist phase or were you successful from a young age?

MOORTEL: I always had jobs and worked. I was self-employed quite often.

MACEACHRON: What kinds of jobs?

MOORTEL: Record stores, bars. That was only when I was in art school because I didn’t finish it. I did two residencies but I didn’t finish with any degree. At twenty or twenty-four I started working with my first gallery in Belgium. It worked out from the first moment. I did one really huge piece for the gallery show and it was sold. I could make a living off that for almost two years. So then I became self-employed.

MACEACHRON: It sounds like most of your work is much larger than what’s here at Basel.

MOORTEL: Yeah, there’s always a balance with these kinds of things. But this presentation is what the gallery shows look like.

MACEACHRON: Speaking of galleries, how did you connect with the Denis Gardarin gallery?

MOORTEL: It is the first time we’ve worked together but it’s been going very well. They’re really working hard. We’re almost sold out so it’s moving. Also in terms of audience they’re all American collectors. They didn’t know me before so they’re responsive and very… I’m really surprised in a way. I came here thinking, “oh this will go fine.” I wasn’t worried but I also didn’t expect anything. But American collectors are like, ‘oh this is great, I’ll get it.’ That doesn’t happen in Europe. People come back. Even collectors who have five pieces say ‘oh let me think about it, can you put it on hold for a week?’ This doesn’t happen in Europe.

MACEACHRON: Americans just go for it. So you’ve sold some pieces so far, everything?

MOORTEL: Basically everything yeah. I mean there are a few left but most have sold.

MACEACHRON: This is your first solo show in the US right?

MOORTEL: Yeah, I was in the Armory show before but that was five years ago so the work was kinda different. Something like this it’s the first time.

MACEACHRON: This is an incredibly vague question so answer however you like. What differences do you see in the art world in Belgium/Europe and the states?

MOORTEL: I think with all these fairs… it’s the same as shopping for clothes for instance. Ten years ago you didn’t have the shops in Belgium that you had in New York. But now you have H&M, whatever, Zara, that took away the exotic kind of thing. The art fairs took away some of the exotic things. You don’t have to discover in Europe European artists. You’ll have to go to Brussels, Antwerp to discover… well we’re talking about me, to discover me because I’m in a European art fair or gallery. So in a way that generalized and made it easier to go around, which in a way is a good thing because there’s so much going on. You need those art fairs to actually see something because you can’t go all over the world all of the time. A lot of things have changed through the years. The world population has multiplied by three or four. So also the art world is growing. In the sixties and seventies it was way different, there were less artists because there were less people on the planet.

MACEACHRON: This is another vague question but what inspires you? Other artists? A feeling?

MOORTEL:  It depends. It’s come from so many different angles. It’s music, the work itself—looking back at pieces you did years ago or even last year—things you read. I’m always reading multiple things at the same time. I’ve been absorbed by Albert Camus again, his essays on Kafka. George Bataille, his essay “Rotten Sun” is the title of the exhibition. It comes from many different angles. I don’t have a specific sort of… there’s a certain pattern or a wave of making things and then there are times that I go to the studio but don’t do much. I read, I play some music. And then there are times when you don’t have time to because you’re really making work. It’s always in that kind of wave. In times, for me it works to go to the same places over and over. Like next week I will hang out in one coffee bar where I get in to that rhythm of reading, writing, reading, writing, reading, writing. I don’t have time for that when I’m working in the studio. Then the next project is in Madrid so I have to work on that again. It will go in a wave of thinking about what I have to do then doing it.

MACEACHRON: What’s your process like in a physical sense? Are you regimented, do you get up very early, do you stay up all night, do you drink bourbon?

MOORTEL: I have two kids. I’m not really a… I used to drink a lot but I don’t like alcohol anymore.

MACEACHRON: Do you think it changed you at all as an artist?

MOORTEL: Um, you’re dealing differently with time. The concept of time is completely vague when you don’t have kids, when you don’t have a job because as an artist you don’t have a real job. You don’t have limits on time; you don’t have to wake up, you don’t have to go to sleep, you don’t have to do anything you just have to… you have you’re deadlines but it’s really vague. Of course you work a lot but it’s not, you don’t need an alarm clock or anything. With kids you also don’t need an alarm clock because they wake you. It makes you go to bed earlier, it makes you drink a lot more coffee, it makes you drink less alcohol, it makes you go out less—so all the good stuff.

MACEACHRON: What do your children think of their dad being an artist? I know they’re young.

MOORTEL: When I Skype with them they’re more interested in the food I’m getting here than what I’m actually doing out here. But no they really enjoy it when they come in the studio, it’s opposite the house. The six year-old likes to draw, she likes guitar and noisy stuff. Last time she was in the studio she said, “Daddy, there’s so much stuff out here I really need to help you to get some order in here. I really should help you make your stuff.”

MACEACHRON ; My goodness that’s pretty cute.

MOORTEL: Yeah it was really sweet. It was really honest. Like, “there’s so much stuff out here.”

MACEACHRON: That is sweet. Are there any installations or pieces that mean more to you than others, perhaps a defining moment in the process?

MOORTEL: In a way a piece like this comes from a specific installation, which really means a lot to me. The piece is like a proper extraction from that so it’s a direct storyline for a piece like this. There are many more angles and stories for a piece like this. When you start talking about it it’s like “this comes from there and this comes form there.” But I always work within the concept of an exhibition, like a solo show, even if it’s only a fair booth. They’re all connected somehow to each other. Ideally, when you talk in terms of collection they should get this and install it like this but I’m not thinking like that because it should be how it was conceived and how it’s made in a way.

MACEACHRON: You mean all the works here should be displayed together?

MOORTEL: Yeah, but it’s also a nice idea that everything goes. They come from a different angle, different sources, they come together at one point and then they leave each other. That’s also beautiful.

MACEACHRON: Where are you going next?

MOORTEL: Hoboken, it’s a part of Antwerp. Next up is Madrid. Then New York in May for Frieze. Then Paris, Vienna, Belgium.

MACEACHRON : How long do you get to be home and see your family?

MOORTEL: Oh as much as I can.

You can catch Joris Van de Moortel's solo exhibition "Ça vous intéresse l'architecture? Botanics of sound in which wires get crossed and play with the rythmic structure" on view now until January 31, 2016 at BE-PART in Waregem, Belgium. text, interview and photographs by Scout MacEachron. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Uprooting Sculpture As We Know It: An Interview With Artist James Capper

text and interview by Scout MacEachron

James Capper looks a bit like a mad scientist. He is standing in the middle of a park holding a comically large box with buttons and joysticks on it. It’s raining and everything, including Capper, appears to be sinking in to the grass. His hair and clothing are soaked; his expression part exasperation, part intense focus. The box is attached to a Mini-Cooper-sized, spider-like machine that Capper is controlling. The machine raises and lowers it’s legs, taking chunks of grass with it. A small crowd gathers to watch. “I didn’t expect all the rain,” Capper says to no one in particular.

Capper is a 28 year-old British artist redefining what we think of as sculpture (i.e. a chiseled Greek naked person made of marble). Capper’s sculptures move. The one he’s currently controlling is a walking machine or earth marker. It looks something like a moon walker meets spider meets robot. The idea was born from a show at the Paul Kasmin gallery in New York in February called “MOUNTAINEER TEETH.” Capper’s goal with the Mountaineer design is to create a sculpture he can sit inside of and climb up a mountain. The exhibition was his first solo show in the US and included various sculptures and drawings. The gallery represents Capper. They are the ones that arranged for him to participate in this year’s Art Basel Miami where he showed one of his sculptures in the afore mentioned Collins Public Sculpture Park.

Capper is shockingly young for an artist of his prowess. He graduated from the Chelsea College of Art and Design with a B.A. and immediately began working. His work has been shown at the Saatchi Gallery in London and the Moving Museum in Dubai among others. Capper began drawing at an early age but it wasn’t until he learned how to weld that he turned his attention to sculpture. His interest in machinery, engineering and the industrial quickly led him towards the moving sculpture.

I met Capper at Collins Park to observe his moving sculpture. At over 6 ft tall he held an umbrella over my and his publicist’s heads as we ran to the nearby W hotel. Tucked on stools at the hotel café we chatted over hot coffee. I sat on his right side, Capper can’t hear out of his left ear.

In reality Capper is far from a mad scientist type in appearance and personality. He is thoughtful, genuine and soft spoken in the way that someone whose ego has yet to be inflated by greatness is. Capper is handsome, in a British way. As he talks it becomes clear that he is deeply passionate about his work. He has a vision and that vision is and will revolutionize the medium of sculpture. Expect great things from Capper in the years to come. And if one day you see a spider-like machine walking up a mountain with a man inside it is most likely him.

AUTRE: How did you end up at Basel this year?

JAMES CAPPER: Paul Kasmin started representing me in March of this year. I had a show at his gallery in New York called “Mountaineer.” It was a survey show of drawings and sculptures. There were eight sculptures that sat around the walls, which were the component parts of a much larger concept. They were called “Mountaineer Teeth.” And then there were something like 25 drawings. Initially, that’s where my work begins from, where ideas manifest.

AUTRE: Drawing?

CAPPER: Yes, drawing.

AUTRE: Tell me about your beginning as an artist. Were you the kid who grew up knowing what he wanted to do? You have a pretty interesting niche.

CAPPER: I’ve always drawn. I’ve always felt a lot more comfortable drawing than actually writing. In some ways, the best way I can translate ideas is through drawing. That’s where I started. I always had pencils and pens. Now, that’s still a fundamental part of my mannerisms as an artist. That is the one key element that drove me to art school. I knew that there was one thing I could always fall back on—that I could draw. My interest in sculpture really opened up in art school. I went to the Chelsea College of Art in London, and then I went to the Royal College of Art in London.

AUTRE: Do you remember what you drew as a kid? Was it abstract or normal kid stuff? Maybe some of both?

CAPPER: I would say it was just the normal stuff that kids my age would draw, but it really came out on my foundation. The drawing teacher told me, “You have a really straight line. It’s not like these scribbly, scattered lines.” That really opened up, for me, the possibility of making the drawings I make today. I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve always had my quiet moment where I sit down and make drawings. When I make drawings today, I have to have some sort of solidarity or quietness to be able to convey ideas. I can’t do it when I’m under stress or pressure from the studio. That, fundamentally, is where the ideas come from. I draw from an open mind. They are a way of articulating thoughts.

AUTRE: Tell me a bit more about when you were in school. How did your interest in sculpture develop?

CAPPER: Before getting into Chelsea, I didn’t know if I would ever get into art school. I enrolled in a job where I ended up helping out some fabricators. They were doing heavy fabrication—welding stilts together. I understood, having drawn from a young age, that it’s not that far between a pen and a welding torch. You have to have a fairly steady hand, an idea, and a certain confidence in what you’re doing. The transition between being able to draw and being able to weld was like the transition between a saxophonist and a trombonist. It’s a very smooth transition. What I found before getting into Chelsea was that my fabricating skill in metals was getting quite good. I wanted to open that up in these workshops I took in art school, particularly in woodworking. I ended up doing a lot of abstract sculptures. I was very inspired by David Smith and Tony Caro. That’s what helped me get through my first year of art school. Then, I realized that I was really interested in making what I had made while welding—these big, still, moving structures. So, I started investigating that. Those are the primal beginnings of this language, this DNA of what I do now. It all came from fusing all these different things—primary drawing, a little bit of knowledge in fabrication, and art school.

AUTRE: Give me a brief sketch of your path from art school to now.

CAPPER: In my second year at Chelsea, I met this amazing young woman called Hannah Barry. She ended up inviting me to exhibit my work in a group show—what we called a “squat scene.” You guys probably have the same thing in the States—artists have exhibitions derelict buildings. That’s what started this relationship with Hannah and the other artists involved in this squat. A year later, pre-graduation, she opened a gallery in the Southeast part of London called Peckham. I had my first show there, which was a drawing show. From there on, this relationship unfolded. I’ve been working with her for eight years now, and she’s done her utmost best to help me produce ideas. For instance, this year, we produced “Atlas,” which was an idea for a work that I had in 2007. For both of us, we know how much of an achievement that is. It was an idea from, essentially, the beginning. We were commissioned by Henry Moore Foundation a couple of months back, and the show is still running in London.

AUTRE: From the drawing, when did you start building the type of work I saw outside?

CAPPER: There were a number of drawings that I made in 2009, when I was at the Royal College of Art, the sculpture school based in South London. I sat down one morning, having just enrolled in the place, seeing this phenomenal facility. But I didn’t have a penny to my name. So I thought, I can always fall back on my drawing. I put together a whole bunch of drawings on this translucent paper of my dream ideas. These ideas, predominantly, started the foundations of what I now call “Earth Marking.” They were a whole bunch of mobile sculptures. Hannah and I try not to use the word “kinetic,” because it gets confusing. We’re talking about heavy engineering, rather than something more whimsical. And we’re talking about innovation as well, which is something I don’t believe we see a huge amount of in the latter. Predominantly, I put down these ideas thinking, “If I had all the time and money and everything in the world, this is what I would do.” I just went out into the abyss. That was the first time I found this error in my thinking. It’s like a reconnaissance area, where I can go completely off the track of art, engineering, technology, etc., and come back with ideas and predictions. Things I wanted to aim my target to. These were the first target drawings, one of them being “Mountaineer.”

AUTRE: Tell me more about Mountaineer.

CAPPER: Mountaineer was a mobile sculpture that I would be able to sit inside—like an operating crane—and climb up a mountain. It has these four telescopic legs. It’s very much like a crane or an excavator, but very influenced by insects, on a large scale. It was making those drawings, and seeing films like Fitzcarraldo, where he pulls the ship over the mountain, that influenced me in this radical way. That was the beginning of this investigation, what I do and who I am today.

AUTRE: Have you ever had an interest in engineering? Did you teach yourself?

CAPPER: The biggest thing I had to teach myself in the latter years to make these dream drawings come true was building the relationships I have with my industrial supply chain. I needed to be able to delegate as well as manufacture things that are true to the drawings and the ideas. Being a good drawer and being a good welder means that the principles and the skeleton of the sculpture are together. Then, moving from the studio to the power coaters allows it to be painted very well. Their work is fantastic. Being able to work with the hydraulic engineers who make the hoses is also fantastic.

AUTRE: What is your London studio like?

CAPPER: They say this area of Southeast London—Kent Road—is quite a rough area. In the British Monopoly, it’s one of the cheapest ones on the board. But it’s getting good. Peckham—where we originally had the squat—has turned into a huge art district in Southeast London. It’s maybe partly to do with the amount of artists who have moved into the area. My area, when I moved into it, was predominantly industry. I moved into it to move next to the powder coating place so that I could paint. Now, there are warehouses full of artists.

AUTRE: It’s kind of like Brooklyn.

CAPPER: They are inspiring places to be. When the artists come in, they’re even more interesting. This area being full of warehouses—whether it could gentrify, I don’t really know. Unless they start knocking the warehouses down. That’s happened in London. It’s a good piece of London for artists, and it could be like that for another ten years, I imagine.

AUTRE: What’s your process like when you’re in the studio? What sparks your creativity?

CAPPER: It’s really quite mundane. It’s like a normal day. I start around 8, I stop for lunch around 1, and I finish at 6. It’s probably a bit of a longer day for most of the industry guys who start at half-8 and clock off at half-4. If you were to walk into the studio, you would think it was a manufacturing shop. I occasionally people dropping in and saying, “Hey, do you reckon you could weld this up for me, mate?” I have to try to explain to them. Sometimes we give in.

AUTRE: Tell me more about this piece specifically. How did it come about?

CAPPER: It’s been about two years work. I made drawings of a family of prototypes, Mountaineer being one of them as well. The drawing started off as this program where I wanted to investigate radical engineering to make things walk. I wanted some kind of propulsion that could transverse across many different kinds of terrain. It’s kind of like one of those things which already proves itself. A while back, I made this piece called “Midi Marker.” It moves like a caterpillar—expanding and contracting. It’s super simple. That went on to influence Greenhorn, which is a much larger work. I ended up making these four articulating arms—I call them flippers. It can steer around the forest. It’s amphibious.

AUTRE: When I think of a traditional sculpture, I think of something that does not move. What does it mean to have your sculptures move? You could have just created your drawings in an immobile way. Why did you add the movement element?

CAPPER: I saw this one work in Chelsea, in a very rare catalogue. It was Michael Heizer’s “Dragged Mass.” I loved it so much I photocopied it and made my own. The work was commissioned to be outside the newly built Detroit School of Art. He delivered something like a 60-ton piece of sandstone, and he had two bulldozers drag the stone until the machine stopped. What it did was it left this huge mark behind it. It sunk into the ground. He got into a lot of trouble, because it didn’t look like a sculpture. But that opened my eyes to what sculpture could be. That lead me on to an investigation in Land Art. Heizer was swapping his canvas and paintbrush for sticks of dynamite and a bulldozer. It reminded me of the relationship between drawing and welding. I was wanting to make something really pioneering. I didn’t want to be a copycat.

AUTRE: It sounds like a lot of your pieces interact with land in some way. There’s a contrast between the electrical, the mechanical, and the earth. Is that intentional? 

CAPPER: I say with “Earth Marking” that it’s not so much that I’ve made a glorified pencil making the ground. The mark making they make is a forensic analysis. It informs how I can make the work better. I want to make this highly methodical walking machine, which is radical engineering. The only way you can really investigate and move forward in it is to take into account all the marks left to perfect these things. For instance, I see a number of engineers copying animals when there are similar ways to get these movements. There are simpler methods, and more graceful movements. It makes the marks and the machine pieces of work in their own right. For instance, “Atlas” and some other works all sit on these concrete blocks that they made. They stand on the work that they made.

AUTRE: Collins Park, were they worried about the sculpture messing up their grass?

CAPPER: They were super amazing about it. In order to initially install these works, we were going to lay down all these sod to get the forklifts and the equipment in. And they were like, “It’s fine, just drive on the grass.” It’s the land of understanding.

AUTRE: On a day-to-day basis when you’re home, how would you describe yourself? You seem pretty put together and responsible—not like a crazy artist. What do you like to do when you’re not making art?

CAPPER: It’s difficult. Being a young sculptor—or any young artist—there’s a challenge of finding the initial production costs and budgets for these works. I’m pretty much working every day of the week. It’s totally a life thing. It’s part of my lifestyle now. If I’m not working, I’m thinking about it. If I’m not thinking about it, I’m working on something. This year, I made 45 drawings and 21 sculptures. I’m used to making about 4 sculptures a year. This year has been a really crazy year for me. Aside from that, I like to take trips out of London into the outside countryside, into Kent. I enjoy time out on the local scene in Peckham with my friends—the Peckham Badboy Club. I find time outside of what I do, but I’m mostly working. It’s what I love. I haven’t found anything so far to put me off of it.

AUTRE: Do you feel like, in the past year, you’re at that point in your career where everything is exciting? Or has it been steady?

CAPPER: I’ve been taking a lot more risks. I’m trying to get these dream works made. I’m sending them out of the studio with no compromises. That’s one of my biggest ethoses. It makes me less of a commercial entity. The main priority of this year—having the representation—is still making sure the work has the maximum output and impact. It’s not like resting back and watching things take over. It’s been a really challenging year, and I hope there are many more to come.

AUTRE: What’s your dream at the moment? The Mountaineer climbing?

CAPPER: Yeah. You have to always have a 25-year dream. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’re aiming for. For an artist, you’re limitless. So yeah, there are ideas for Mountaineer. The machine comes in three sizes: a four ton machine, an eight ton, and then a thirty ton. That’s what I call the “Mountaineer Super Climb.” There are drawings for these. There’s a work that I call the “Walking Ship.” If you looked at it, it would look like a fishing boat of some sort. But I would modify it, I would put legs on it, so I could walk out into the sea. I would turn the cargo part into a studio. Ideally, I’d love to take it to Venice Biennale and have parties on it. Before Venice sinks!

AUTRE: What’s next for you?

CAPPER: Next year, I’ve been invited by the Sol LeWitt Foundation to participate in a residency, in Spoleto, outside of Rome. I also just found out that they’re interested in commissioning Number 10 in the long list. To get all of these ideas made may still take a few years, but that will be a great body of work. We’ll be testing those works in the mountains in Spoleto this summer. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s an expedition. 

You can visit James Capper's website here. Text and photographs by Scout MacEachron. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE