Half Empty, Since 1998


James Paterson, Marty Spellerberg. March 1st, 2002

I invited James to kick off this Chainletter because I know his work well, and I’m always frustrated with the sorts of questions he’s asked in interviews – they never seem to hit on what’s really going on with him.

He brings the skills and sensibilities of figure drawing to Flash, and in his hands these two seemingly foreign media, one brand-new and the other centuries old, mesh in a way that proves they’re really the same thing after all.

I asked him about some of the things I’m dealing with – divisions between art, design, money and influence. His work makes them seem distinctions without difference, but, as I found out, he’s not ignorant of them.


James is internationally renowned for his work in Flash, and is also a pervert. He is a founding member of Half Empty.
Marty is a video artist and web designer, based in Toronto. He is a founding member of Half Empty and co-ordinator of this series.

What is Chainletter?
Chainletter is a continuing series of profiles, artist to artist. After being interviewed, each artist in turn invites and interviews the next – so who knows where it’ll go!

What is Half Empty?
Half Empty is an international collective of artists, founded in 1998. Its form changes to suit the evolving Internet – this is us now.

James’ Work:

Other Interviews :


Your early work involved stick figure porno and Kermit giving it to a teddy bear, but it has evolved into the creation of highly sophisticated drawing mechanisms. At what point did you decide to "sell out" and "go mainstream?"

Shit!! DID I!!!??? Nooooooo!!!!!!

. . .

Do you recognize the distinction between "Artist" and "Designer?" Do you consider yourself more a part of one world than the other?

Yes, I do recognize that distinction. I get annoyed when people refer to me as a designer or as an illustrator. But I wish I didn’t. It doesn’t really matter. Just some construct I have floating around in my head that I always wanted to be an artist, and that people calling me a designer or an illustrator takes away from that. I don’t think it really does, but I can’t help it.

I would rather have patrons (the way painters do), but the way it is going right now is by no means torture. A lot of people who are coming to me for work are letting me do almost anything I want, which is great.

. . .

Do you find it inhibiting that the conferences you’ve attended are very industry-centric?

I don’t really care. Any excuse to get a free vacation is good for me. The conferences have little to nothing to do with when or how I make my work anyway. Its just fun to go and see all the people that I know from around the web. It’s like summer camp!

. . .

How do you think the "net.art" and commercial worlds fit together, and which do you think will have the greatest impact in the long-run?

Not sure. The net.art scene is too insular and ironic to do anything very impactful, and the commercial world online is too cheesy and trendy and rarely has a shred of content.

There are plenty of people who are doing personal work that does not fit in at all with the net.art scene, but also have nothing to do with the commercial world. I think these unique oddballs are the ones who will have the most impact on both the Art world and the Internet as a whole.

. . .

Your work is very much about drawing, but you do it in a very contemporary way. Are you influenced by any other contemporary drawers/painters?

I really Like Takashi Murakami, and Sarah Sze, and the kids from the Neasden Control Centre. There are lots of others, but these ones stick out right now.

. . .

You’ve said your work is highly influenced by electronic music. By this do you mean the big-beat stylings of Fat Boy Slim?

No! I fucking hate Fat Boy Slim. Him and Ben Afleck are my two most hated humans on the planet. They are, in fact, the same person. I would punch him/them if I had the chance. When I hear Fat Boy Slim’s music it makes my skin crawl and my eyes go bloodshot, my hands ball up in fists and my knuckles turn white. If you are reading this (either of you, Ben or Fat Boy) then go EAT SHIT!

But I do think it is crucial to bring outside influences to any medium. If all I did was try and make my stuff look like other people’s websites it wouldn’t be very interesting or personal would it? I react to the world in a really physical way, so my animations have a lot of that in them. I get a kick out of trying to give other people the same feelings through my work.

. . .

How interesting do you find the "pop," trend-of-the-month design work?

I like it for its punch but it is boringly predictable. But then again, "pop" styles on the Internet are still underground in terms of mass pop culture. If I walk down the street and ask someone who designgraphik is, 99% of people won’t know what I’m talking about.

It does influence me quite a lot, but in an indirect way. It sort of warps whatever ideas and imagery that is going on in my head at the time. No much more than any other one source of influence though.

. . .

You studied at NSCAD but didn’t finish. What role do you think schools have in regard to making Art on the Internet?

I don’t think that very many Fine Art schools are teaching new media very well. They need a juicy batch of artist/programmer profs who really know what they are doing. Most of the people qualified for the job are just working in the field and probably wouldn’t take the time out to teach. School is great, I just think that if you want to make art with computers, then you better be prepared to learn the formal side of it on your own or take computer science before you go to art school.

The schools I went to were very valuable to my work now, especially Central Tech in Toronto. It was there that I really learned how to draw. NSCAD was good too, but I was so interested in learning how to use computers at that time that it was as if the volume got turned down at the school. I couldn’t get all that excited by reproducing 70’s conceptual art, when something fresh and uncharted was opening up in my brain because of computers. I was a little unsure about that at the time – I kept thinking that maybe my stuff wasn’t valid because it didn’t have an ironic chuckle attached to it.

. . .

Thanks James! I’m really looking forward to seeing who you’ll profile for Step 2 of this Chainletter!




design by MARTY SPELLERBERG, photos by LIZ COWIE