Friday 27 November 2009

Introducing... James Roberts

We're a couple of days late on this one, but here is this week's interview with Shoe Show exhibitor James Roberts. Along with a friend, James is currently working on a new project called 'Captains of Industry' located in inner city Melbourne (Somerset Place off Little Bourke Street to be precise). Very exciting indeed! Set to open in mid-December, we can't wait to visit Captains of Industry - it sounds right up CVHQ's alley. Congratulations James and Thom!

Shoe Show ended yesterday (Saturday) and we hope you managed to sneak a peek before it closed. If you weren't able to, fret not as we will be posting photos of the exhibition sometime next week.


Could you tell us a bit about yourself, where you grew up, what you studied at school?
I grew up in Melbourne and studied hard sciences – Maths/Physics/Chemistry – all through High School and University. In Uni however I branched out to study History and Philosophy of Science also, and that was my main creative outlet I guess.

You've mentioned that you were about to commence your Masters in Chemistry before deciding to change your direction. What prompted the move towards shoemaking? Was it something that you've always been interested in, or was it more of a spur-of-the-moment decision?
I was doing a Masters in the History of Chemistry. The main idea was to recreate some early chemistry experiments as accurately as possible to find out more about early techniques, their accuracy, purity of materials etc... It turned out to be too hard to do in Melbourne and I had to put it on hold. The historical side of chemical practice led me to really appreciate old techniques, practices, tools, apparatus machinery etc. Shoemaking wasn't something I'd ever really considered before then. I saw a course in the CAE guide for shoe making run by Brendan Dwyer. I did a couple of his courses and then started teaching myself from then on. I'm still an absolute amateur. There is so much more to learn.

The first shoe James made

Do you think your background in chemistry has influenced how you work with shoes in any way?
I'm sure it has. But I still think it is coming out slowly. I really like colouring my own leather and would actually like to make my own dyes and glues, waxes, threads etc in the future.

You've been making shoes for a couple of years now... any plans for the future in terms of developing your practice? What do you hope to achieve?
I have a long way to go yet and most of it is learning. I'd like to be able to make some historical reproduction shoes and perfect a bespoke fitting in the near future.

You share a studio with a shoemaker as well as a few other creative types working with a diverse range of mediums. How does this affect the way you approach your artistic practice?
Working with other people is incredibly helpful. Steve (the other shoemaker) and I have both had problems with different things in the past and it definitely helps to talk through them with other people. Having other artists around is good too. Feedback and sharing ideas are very important, especially when your starting out.

Do you see shoes more as 'fashion' or 'art', or both?
I can certainly see that they occupy a place in both those worlds. But shoes are also very practical. You wear them every day. Maybe they are in that elusive realm between science, art and craft. Modern shoes can also be put in the category of technology they are so far from being handmade.Personally I'm not a couture shoemaker. I like to make simple shoes based on classic styles and techniques with my own twist.

And finally, “if I were a shoe I'd be...
…Hopefully on someone's feet. I'd hate to be a pair of shoes stuffed in a closet full of other shoes.

Photography by Richard Brockett

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