James Enos works at North Pole Studio, a Portland-based progressive art studio for artists with autism and intellectual / developmental disabilities. With James’ consent, this Q&A was answered collaboratively with North Pole Studio staff and his mother, Beth Enos.
Would you share your journey as an artist with us? When did you begin; how did you begin?
James is an entirely self-taught author and illustrator. James began drawing in high school, and was encouraged to expand his drawings with the encouragement of an early teacher. His deep creativity quickly emerged, as he transitioned away from life drawing to more fanciful subjects. It was years before he started making the books that he is now known for, and the catalyst for this shift is still unknown.
James designs and executes each book from scratch. His extraordinary process includes binding, researching, writing, and hand-drawing illustrations— many of which fold-out and can extend upwards of 275 cm. His stories weave together to form a collection inspired by his life experiences, picture books adapted from major motion pictures, and pop-culture of the late 80s and early 90s, among others.
James began by hand-writing his books with penmanship that is a work of art in itself. James’ early books alternate line for line with a slightly different shade of the same color (i.e. light blue, dark blue; pink, red). Over the past two years, James has transitioned to writing on a type-writer. His illustrations have evolved but adhere to a consistent style.
James created art at the Portland Art and Learning Studio (PALS) until it closed in 2020. During his time at PALS, James was discovered by Marshall Weber at Booklyn, Inc. in NYC who began representing him and selling his books nationally. In 2021, James joined North Pole Studio, where he works to date.
In a very short period of time, James went from being an unknown artist to boasting an impressive resume which includes being collected by major universities including Bainbridge Island Museum of the Arts; University of California, Los Angeles, Special Collections Library; University of Central Florida, Special Collections Library; University of Delaware, Special Collections Library; Yale University, Haas Family Fine Arts Library.
How would your community of peers (family, friends, other creatives/artists) describe you?
James is incredibly focused and has an admirable art practice, working continuously from 10am – 3pm and pausing only for a lunch break. When James is in the writing phase, his typewriter starts buzzing the moment he walks into the studio, and doesn’t stop until he leaves. It has become a beloved soundtrack of North Pole Studio.
Because of the seriousness James approaches both his art practice and the world with, many don’t know what an incredible sense of humor he has. He is a prankster at heart and has a sharp and sophisticated sense of humor which is best captured in his books.
James’ artistic genius and extensive knowledge of pop culture, familiar kids’ stories (such as Mulan, Tarzan, and the Chronicles of Narnia) is admired by his peers.
Thinking back to your artistic journey, bridging to where you are at now, how would you summarize your artwork currently? Where are you now with your work?
James continues to hone his craft; his evolution from hand-writing his books to his typewriter has marked a distinctive shift in his process. James’ illustrational style and syntax are consistent across his stories, but he continues to refine both with each book.
James experimentation with various methods and materials for binding his large-scale, multimedia books is evident over time. James books are often up to 6” thick and well over 5lbs when complete, with fold-out illustrations strategically folded to fit into a structure that can be read cover to cover.
James’ latest books are tighter, both visually and structurally with consideration to decisions around materials and paper size. Additionally, many of his recent works are written in chapters, and can be read as isolated stories or as a collection.
Based on the award/grant you received from RACC how have you continued your direction in your project/artwork/process?
In 2021, James was invited to exhibit his books in a solo booth at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City. The Outsider Art Fair is a world renown art fair, and provides a huge opportunity for lesser known self-taught artists’ work to be viewed by major art collectors alongside the greats. With the support of his team, James applied for a Make | Learn | Build grant to cover the cost of the booth fee. With RACC’s grant award, Bookyln, Inc. represented James Enos at the 2022 Outsider Art Fair in spring of 2022.
Accessing grant funding is rife with barriers for many artists in the disability community, from awareness of opportunities, through application to the disbursement processes. James’ team values RACC’s recognition of his work through this award, and their collaboration in making this grant funding accessible.
What have been some of the speed bumps you have encountered? Did it change your trajectory or direction?
For a long time, James did not have access to the resources needed to fully develop his creative practice. Being part of a progressive studio community has provided James with access to materials, direct support, and advocacy to both structure and develop his existing practice and promote visibility of the work. Having access to progressive studio programming changed everything, as it provided a platform for James’ work to be seen and acquired. Without this platform, it is unlikely that James’ work would be included in the art collections and conversations it is today.
When the pandemic hit, James’ studio program (PALS) closed, putting a temporary pause on his practice as he no longer had access to materials and space to work. In the spring of 2021, James resumed his practice at North Pole Studio.
What is next for you?
James is currently working on writing and illustrating and original series based on the Chronicles of Narnia. Both North Pole Studio and Booklyn, who represents James in NYC, will continue to facilitate opportunities for James’ work to contribute to the art and literary world.