Born in the UK in 1971, James Aldridge is a painter who cites his influences as his father’s birdwatching field books, a youthful obsession with heavy metal and skateboard graphics from Santa Cruz and Powell-Peralta. He now makes paintings from his home in a Swedish forest.

I first stumbled on James Aldridge’s work a couple of years ago when I went to the restaurant at Tate Modern in London. The restaurant is on the 7th floor of the giant riverside building with amazing views across the capital, but despite the views I remember being completely transfixed by the giant painting which runs along the length of one wall. The painting is Aldridge’s Cold Mouth Prayer, commissioned specifically for the space by the Tate. The image stuck with me and I’ve been back several times to see it.

Looking Sideways got in touch with James and asked him to tell us a little more about his work, inspiration and his recent move to Sweden.

The installation at Tate Modern

Your work seems to be a mixture of influences – can you explain where they all come from?

The first artist I really looked at was Edvard Munch. When I was around 8 my Dad came back from a trip to Oslo with a catalogue from the Munch Museum. I was really drawn to the work without really knowing why – maybe because it had a strangeness that expressed such emotion. That is a quality that still draws me to the art I like. I was also very much into heavy metal at around the age of 11, so I used to spend a lot of time obsessively copying album covers like Killers by Iron Maiden and Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne. I also looked at a lot of bird watching guides that were lying around, and copied those too. Later on, painters like Georg Baselitz, Philip Guston, Vija Celmins, Peter Doig and Raymond Pettibon were an influence. There are too many to mention really.

How about action sports. Was that an influence?

I used to be really into BMX when I was younger and that led naturally to skateboarding. I really remember my Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp deck and the Skull Skates logo, as well as all the Powell-Peralta designs. All that dark imagery interested me and it relates to the metal reference and even the atmosphere of Munch’s work.

Away from art, I looked at a lot of old esoteric and religious imagery, metal albums and t-shirt designs. I still listen to metal while I’m working -especially doom metal and black metal. I’m still also influenced by bird illustrations and natural history reference books. I am a big fan of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. I am also greatly influenced by immediate surroundings (I live in the forest in Småland in southern Sweden) and this is something that seems to become increasingly important to my work.

l-r: Altar, Sacrifice, Poison

Is there a process behind your work?

My work has a quite complicated set of processes that I use in order for it to evolve, and so I can become engaged in the images I am making. I never know how something will develop when I begin and each decision is very much a reaction to what has happened in the work before. When I finish a work, I’ll have formulated a starting point for the next piece from what I have learnt in making that work. It might be just a thought that flashes into my mind whilst I’m working. In that way the pieces generally flow from one to another in an organic way. It also allows that language of the work to develop and mutate in unexpected ways.

Have you seen any inspiring shows recently?

The last great show I saw was The Peredvizhniki – Pioneers In Russian Painting at the National Museum in Stockholm and Thor at Musklerock Festival in Sweden in the summer.

Do you own any art yourself?

I own some original prints by Peter Beste from the Norwegian Black Metal Series. Several original pen and ink drawings by Justin Bartlett and a couple of prints. A Daniel Johnston drawing. A Paul Housley painting of a cat and a watercolour of a skull. A Jenny Källman photograph. A painting by Anna Bjerger. Two small paintings of one of my daughters by Chantal Joffe. Quite a few antique bird prints. Five antique taxidermy bird.