New Hampshire urban artist James Chase is using his brand of found object art to create “art in the moment.”
In a dusty mill building on the outskirts of downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, urban artist James Chase and an intern are struggling to hoist the massive iron frame of an old printing press onto a rolling flatbed cart. They are working late, with plans of cleaning and reassembling the device. Chase does not have letter blocks, but he hopes to use the press to roll out posters, or maybe even give his students a taste of turn-of-the-last-century printing techniques.
“I got word of a guy who owned a pizza shop who had this in his basement,” Chase says. “That happens a lot—somebody will show up at my door with old stuff, building material.” He pauses. “Junk!”
Chase’s specialty is found art. He takes old slats, bricks, or burned wood, and re-purposes the objects into colorful, modern installations. Then, those pieces can be fitted up in a location or at a pop-up exhibit, sometimes in site-specific installations like the one Chase once built on the grounds of a recently burned building.
The result is what he calls “art in the moment.” “That’s what gives the art life and energy, to not be in the vacuum of a museum, to never know how long it’s going to last,” he says.
To that end, his most recent installation, called Surge, is an enormous modernist mural painted directly onto the roll down gate of an old mill building just a few blocks from his studio. Against the drab red brick of the building, the mural pops like a sunflower in a parking lot. Chase, 35, was born and raised in Manchester and used to skateboard as a kid around that section of the city’s Millyard. Now, Chase believes that art, as temporary as it might be, can be a form of economic development, a way to breathe life into a depressed neighborhood.
“That’s why it’s called Surge,” he says. “Art is about energy, and that space needed it!”
Chase is currently working with officials in Rochester, New Hampshire, to create a mural series for that city’s downtown. He sits on the board of the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts and is convinced of the project’s promise to revitalize the city. “The art is there so they come have dinner or drinks, take in the murals or catch a pop-up,” he says.
Chase also works in the art departments of Manchester Community College and the New Hampshire Institute of Art, and takes a similar hands-on approach when it comes to teaching his students, offering them volunteer opportunities, exhibitions, and art exchanges.
His own love for art developed when he was in high school in the city he now calls home. “I was a quiet, shy kid,” he says. “That’s why I took every art class I could. It gave me support and a foundation. Art was the way to get my voice heard. Still is.”