Where is poetry, art and humor? — Interview with James Victore (New York)

James is one of those guys you don‘t meet every day in the design scene. His powerful works simply refuse to NOT touch you. But he did shock me as a young design student who had just gotten into typography by openly declaring to not give a damn about type. Designers are assholes, he said - and i gulped. Now I got to learn that he did start out as a designer „neatly aligning things“... 


James, what relationship do you have to perfection?

I have no relationship to perfection, I have certain peccadilloes, bad habits that are driven by perfection but in my work I have no relationship with it. I always tell my students that perfection, or the pursuit of it, will actually stop them from starting projects, from finishing projects, from ever feeling confident about their work or who they are. I generally try to keep it pretty far away from the studio here. I don‘t believe in it.

Has it always been the same? Did it ever change?

No, I think as I first started out as a designer, I thought that was what we did. I thought it was all about neatly aligning things and figuring out all these little measurements and making things perfect, but I learned early on that perfect isn't interesting to begin with. Because usually your concept of perfection is different than my concept of perfection. But I luckily had a couple of influences and one of them was this polish designer Henryk Tomaszewski. In a conversation I once had with him, I asked him „Are your works beautiful“, or „beauty“, and he said, „Ah, beauty-ugly, I don‘t know the difference.“ And I thought that was kind of interesting. 

Last night I was doing some hand lettering for a project and I actually found myself pursuing perfection in a weird way, doing it over and over and over. So although I claim to have no relationship with it, it really creeps into everyone’s lock because you‘re looking for this visual that I see in my head, and I want to see the same thing on the paper. Sometimes it's hard to give up. Sometimes when we are working on a project I have to snap out and say it‘s done, and it‘s fine. We can keep on messing with it for the next couple of hours but its not going to change it, so lets just be done with it. 

We‘re working on a project on the screen right now, which has just a photograph of a baby chick on it that we took. There‘s no reason for this baby chick to be there other than I just think it’s cute. I‘m sure I’ll get questions from people asking me why the baby chick, because they want the perfect answer, but I don‘t have it.

So was it a process you learned to think that way?

I learned to relax and not worry about it.

Why is perfection such a big thing with us designers then?

I don‘t know why designers are so geared towards perfection. I think it’s a huge mistake because it makes you pay attention to details and not to the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is the one telling a story, and the bigger picture is having beauty, or poetry, or art, or humor in work, and not these kind of noodle-neck kind of.. you know... this fascination with this space between two letters. That kind of perfection, it drives me mad.

Do you see yourself perfect?

No, no.. I‘d be a rack, I don‘t know how I‘d get up from bed in the morning if I thought I was perfect, because everything would have to be in a certain way. As I get older I‘ve gotten very good at relaxing and going with the flow, trying to be like water. How to be a river and not worry about the details.. I could start everyday in the studio like cleaning the studio from top to bottom, but it would just be a waste of time, because its going to get messy again. So I can’t worry about it... As you can see.

Well, I better not show you around here! So, being perfect would be a stopping of progress?

Yeah, I think so. Stopping progress, or stopping me from even starting. Like I said I would not get anything done here cause I’d be constantly messing with the dust in the corners and the piles.. and you know there‘s just too much to even do that.. Or if I was working with a larger job, and I had to concern myself with every single detail and not let some things slide, the jobs would take forever to finish. Or I would be here until 11 o‘clock at night which doesn‘t interest me at all.

Can you show me something perfect?

Nah. People sometimes ask me about success. And although I don't know exactly what that is, the only success I know in my life is my son Luca. He's a social, polite, smart, and funny young man - that's something I've done well, but perfect?! I could not even include him. Because I don't think that's even…there's no perfection there, I don't even know what that would be. I don't know any perfection, really.

Even him you wouldn't call perfect?

No, I wouldn‘t even want to. I think there would be too much pressure.

Is it that perfection is something unreachable, a divine quality for you? 

Yeah, totally divine! I think there‘s some perfection, it’s.. you know these moments when your out in the country and lying in the grass and just looking at the grass and how perfect it is in its mess and its non-perfection, it’s somehow perfect. I mean yeah, the perfection is only for -dare I say- it is only for God. Not for us.

Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it, said Dali.

 I‘m sure i‘ll get questions of people asking me why the baby chick, cause they want the perfect answer, but i don‘t have it.

Skype call from 09/2010
Edited by Gabriel Tamez

Suvi Häring