The Spirit Moved Him to Toss the Script (and the Easel)

For James Love, making do is the route to breakthroughs: “I might wonder, ‘What would dirt look like on this [painting]? … Or ketchup?’”
Portrait by Matt Rose
Self-taught artist James R. Love attended historic Morehouse College in Atlanta and went on to earn a degree in creative writing at Warren Wilson College. After graduation he coached basketball at Asheville High School and taught at New Classical Academy, then transitioned to private basketball instruction to allow him more time to work on his sketches and paintings on paper and canvas. Love’s work appeared in two important group exhibits this winter: In Living Color at The BLOCK Off Biltmore and Asheville Through Brown Eyes at the Asheville Area Arts Council, which both closed last month.

His goals for 2019 include hosting monthly art workshops, doing more live-improv painting performances — “ideally, at least one in a low-income neighborhood within Buncombe County” —  and placing work in a local gallery.

The King on His Throne

What motivates your creativity?

Art is a very spiritual practice for me … a vehicle to get in the door at a spiritual level. There is social commentary in it, but the foundation — what I look at my art as — is a ministry for healing. 

Who helped encourage your pursuit of art?

My mom was an encourager, and I got big encouragement from an art professor at Warren Wilson. And from my own spirit. And outsider artists. And artwork by children.  

Children are the ultimate outsider artists, aren’t they?

Yeah. Kids, they still got it. To be childlike is to do it without restraints. I was making art based on how I thought it had to made, but when I discovered the more indigenous way of doing art, there was no turning back. 

Everybody Dance

You found that approach more liberating?

I chose freedom over being perfect. “Perfectionist” means you don’t want to make a mistake. But you can turn mistakes into masterpieces. 

An ancient Chinese philosopher said, “By letting go it all gets done.”

In an African-American church, it’s all improv, in a way. You have a program of the service to follow. But the program goes out the window when the spirit hits. There’s no script for that. 

When you’re moved to make art, do you follow a script?

It varies. Sometimes I start with a scene, or concept, or feeling … and I allow creativity to have its way. I give myself permission to be more in flow, more taken away by the spirit. 

The Church

You surrender to the creative urge?

Like it says, “Not my will, but Thy will.” Have the humility to let the spirit have its way in life. 

Does some kind of truth come through for you? 

Truth, and freedom. If you can’t be free in your art, I don’t know where you can be free. 

What about your choice of materials?

I do the best I can with what I have. I might be like, “What would dirt look like on this? Or ketchup?” I’ve painted with my feet. I don’t use an easel. 

Sounds like fun.

I’m having fun and chasing freedom. I mix things up so much I am a visual DJ. If I am creating with music on, I will make a mark to match the rhythm I’m listening to. Or make a scratch like a DJ makes that scratching sound.

Is your work stylistically evolving?

Oh yeah. But I don’t stress much about my development. Like a bird doesn’t worry about the song it sings. It just sings a different song every morning.

Looking Beyond the Black Frame

James Love, South Asheville, and on Instagram: @ipaintforgod. Sign up for Love’s newsletter for notification of upcoming events and exhibits. The artist also hosts art workshops for youth, young adults, and seniors, including home visits and pop-up workshops. His work is on permanent display at the Burton Street Community Center in West Asheville. For more information, visit his website or contact him at or call 336-264-8737. 

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