Five Questions: James Gouldthorpe

Conservation Technician

What’s your favorite tool? Why?
I would say my IPod. I need a soundtrack as I work.

How many breaks do you take when you’re working on a piece? What do you do on your breaks?
Many, I am easily distracted. Sometimes minutes slip by and I realize I’ve just spent it petting my cat or staring at a bird in my yard. My studio is full of old books and magazines I have pulled from dumpsters and the dump; I’ll spend hours looking through these trying to find ideas to work with.

Have you ever accidentally ruined one of your works by dropping/spilling/ripping?

Frequently, I don’t have the most orderly of studio habits, so spilling ink or dropping my painting on the floor then accidentally stepping on it is not an uncommon occurrence. Though in many cases it creates an interesting mistake which I can work with and hopefully make something interesting.

James Gouldthorpe, Growing Up, 1941

What is the most surprising or unusual aspect of your process?

That I’m never sure what it will be. Over the years I have stopped trying to create with one consistent process in mind I prefer experimenting these days with many mediums. I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy making things whatever form it takes, painting, photography, video, sculpture.

Has working at SFMOMA influenced your work in any way?
Working in conservation has allowed me to have a very intimate relationship with a number of artists and artworks. Part of my job is photographing the artworks and often on a near microscopic level.This gives me a view into technique and artists intention that many people don’t get to see.

Frequently we get scholars through the labs who are researching specific artists and as I eavesdrop on their conversations with the conservators I learn all sorts of fascinating information concerning materials, techniques as well as the historical bits. I’m not exactly sure how this all effects what happens in my studio but some kind of processing must be going on.


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