An Interview with James Relyea

You can view James Relyea's portfolio here.

Please take a few sentences to introduce yourself, your background, and your work.

I am a 63 year young art student. I have taken several classes in college but I do not have a degree.

I am mostly self taught. I have been a picture framer most my life. Most of the frame shops I worked in were in galleries. I was able to study other artist works in the galleries and frame a lot of fine art. I had my own picture frame and gallery business, five years in Syracuse and ten years on Cape Cod.

I have exhibited in several galleries. I lived in New York City for five years. I built a portable display and would set up in front of the Guggenheim.

I have worked in most mediums. I always try to do something original, non-traditional. I used to create mat board reliefs. I would cut pieces and adhere them to a backboard; they were similar to Matisse's art.

What did being a framer teach you about art? Did it give you a different perspective or insight into artwork?

I was in the picture frame business for 35 years. I have seen all types of art, some very fine art and some not so fine art. I learned that all art is good. I learned it is an attempt of an individual to express one self and be creative.

Can you describe the job of a framer?

The job of a picture framer is to protect the art. I kept it pretty basic. I liked the natural woods the best. I used an antique, soft gold frame, a soft antique silver and a wood black frame. I used a lot of rustic frames on Cape Cod. I usually used a off white or cream mat. I tried to compliment and feature the art. Framing may seem trivial but it means a lot to customer.

When did you get started with your artwork, like the mat board reliefs? Have you always been artistic?

"Everything inspires me. I try to see beauty in everything."

I was introduced to art when my mother bought me paint-by-number-kit when I was a kid. My mother and grandmother were both art students. I majored in art in high school. Used the G.I. bill to go to college where I studied Fine Art. I have studied art all my life. Learned a lot by just doing.

Picture framing is kind of expensive, so I learned to frame my own art. I became a professional picture framer. I liked design, like Matisse. Being a picture framer there was a lot of mat board around. I started using scraps to create mat board reliefs.

Do you try to imitate painting with your photography?

I don't try to imitate painting with my photography. It is a pleasant accident. I just play with the highlights, brightness, contrast, shadows and saturation.

When and how did you get started with photography?

I started photography about four years ago. I enrolled at the Art Institute in NYC. That was also the same year I bought my first computer.

"I had to change my thinking to discover the beauty in NYC; I believe there is beauty in everything, if you look for it."

In a few sentences, how would you describe your style of photography?

I enjoy mixed media. I put my images in the computer and use Windows Live Photo. I play with the brightness, shadows, contrast, highlights, and saturation. It is a way to be creative. I am learning a little more every day. I believe my images are impressionistic. They are non-traditional.

Does painting influence the way that you take pictures? Does your photography and mixed media work influence the way you approach painting?

I am taking a oil painting class now. I hope to imitate my photography with my painting. I don't think painting influences my photography; they are very different. I think I have a decent eye for composition which is important in both. I have just discovered this technique about four months ago. I am pretty happy with my new works. I will always try to improve.

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How and why did you choose art as a career?

I believe everyone is born with different abilities. I believe I have been blessed with some artistic ability. I just have to work to get better every day.

Where does the inspiration for your work come from?

Everything inspires me. I try to see beauty in everything. Nature inspires me. People inspire me. I love to photograph people. New York City inspires me. I live in Syracuse now. I hope to move back to NYC this year.

What do you think it is about New York City that you love and inspires you?

I love New York; it is probably the greatest city in the world. I like being overwhelmed. The energy level is in the city is awesome. I like the museums and the galleries. I think the people are the major reason. I like to photograph people and there are certainly a lot of characters in NYC.

NYC is so different from your landscapes. Do you have a different approach to them? Do they inspire you in different ways?

I moved to New York City from Cape Cod. It was quite a contrast. Cape Cod had its natural beauty. I had to change my thinking to discover the beauty in NYC; I believe there is beauty in everything, if you look for it.

If someone wants to become a photographer, what should they do?

I would advise aspiring photographers to get out as often as possible and shoot lots of pictures, or take a class. The instructors are very helpful and it is nice to be around other people with the some interest.

You have to be persistent and never stop trying to get better every day. Never stop learning.

View James Relyea's Portfolio