Ready For Something New In Your Life? I Sure Am! (New Blog Post)

Prayer Machine 251. In My Dreams All The Places Are Bigger - Wire Sculpture by James Paterson, Ontario, Canada

My emotions have been swirling since returning from the Art San Diego show 3 weeks ago, with my wife Lynn, and daughter, Sorche. “What am I doing as an artist?” I’ve been asking myself. My spirit says I’ve come to the end of a season with the Prayer Machine creations and am about to start into a new one. Am I ready?

So far I see the journey with the Prayer Machines in three phases; the first part being our move to Germany from 2008 – 2011 where the Prayer Machines were conceived.

The second phase has taken place over the past 6 years, from the time we arrived back in Canada in July 2011 to the first showing at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition in July 2012, through this past Art San Diego show at the end of September, 2017. This phase allowed us to introduce the Prayer Machines to the public, establish prices and value, and form relationships with a number of different galleries now carrying the work.

That means the third phase is beginning now, anticipating a return to the Spectrum Miami show in December for the fourth time, during Art Week Miami, arguably the largest collective art fair in the world.

The Prayer Machines have evolved. Initially, they came out of an experience I had in Germany when I couldn’t find words to use in prayer. In my distress I wondered what my prayers would look visually, rather than sound like with words. Intuitively I started playing with wire, twisting it into ambiguous machine-like looking objects. My prayer life returned and I ended up calling these little creations “Prayer Machines”.

Since my first experimental constructions, the Prayer Machines have changed as I’ve added colour, kinetic movement and more complexity.   Now I find I want to take them beyond being reminders of that experience back in Germany and have them talk about things going forward as well. They’ve made me curious. I’m curious about what machines are, where they’ve come from and where they are going. I’m curious about the intermingling and identification we have with machines. I’m curious about how that relationship will develop and further define us. In culture we are often seen to be pitted against “the machine” but I wonder why the relationship continues to be so dependant and why it’s so often  personalized?

I’m not sure anymore if what I’m doing is art, or if I’m even an artist. What I know is that I make things, objects, hopefully beautiful objects, and I deal in imagination. Entering this third phase with the Prayer Machines I’d like to look further into our entanglements with machines and the impact of technoculture on how we live, think, make decisions and view who we are. My imagination will be the road, the Prayer Machines the vehicles my curiosity uses to travel, as I explore our growing relationship with the machines we are creating.

Prayer Machines in Outer Space?

Written by guest writer, Lynn Paterson

Prayer Machines in Outer Space?  Well, not really. They haven’t flown out there yet. But James did have an opportunity to show his whimsical creations on the TV show, “InnerSpace” which airs on, what else, the Space Channel.

James was invited to participate in an interview with InnerSpace host, Teddy Wilson. The event took place at the Petroff Gallery where the Prayer Machines were being featured in the window during a two week period in July. Teddy asked probing questions about how the idea of these wire sculptures began, while Petroff rep Ellen Hlozan and I listened in from behind the partition. Eavesdropping, we were. But fascinating to hear how Teddy was able to draw out of James the “why” behind the wire pieces and explore his spiritual crisis that lead to the first twist of wire. Then James showed him the “how”.  It really is a miracle how in TV time, a masterpiece can be created in a matter of minutes, or seconds.

The whole shoot took about 3 hours and ran quite smoothly, and then it was a matter of waiting until the editor and producer told us when the segment would be airing on the Space Channel.  And as they say, “A good time was had by all!”

Thanks are in order to the Petroff Gallery for their gracious hosting of the event and to Michelle Melles, Senior Segment Producer for Space/CTV and Bell Media for arranging the proceedings.  And if you think of the internet and TV as this mysterious, magical method of sharing moving pictures that I do, then the Prayer machines really are now in Outer Space!

Lynn Paterson, Observer of art and mystery.

Prayer Machines and Shadows

There is a brilliant book by David Galenson called, Old Masters and Young Geniuses, in which he makes a point for the credibility of those that develop later in life. The ones who take time to mature while coming to effective, if not profound, creative expression a little later than the rest. In a culture that gives popular acclaim to precocity and exults the energy of youth, Galenson makes a great case for those who seemingly muddle along much of their lives in search of, they aren’t sure what, but end up saying something new and valid and true in the end. (The book itself is in-depth, he’s an economist after all; for an easier read, Malcolm Gladwell capsulizes his thesis nicely in his book, What the Dog Saw, in the chapter “Late Bloomers”).

I love what Galenson says because I feel like I’ve been muddling along most of my life, in search of I don’t know what, but figured if I tinkered long enough something would emerge.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a vision. From my earliest memories I had this “idea” that I wanted to express.  I was aware of an “ethereal image”, like an elusive shadow, that would float before my mind’s eye that I knew I wanted to capture. And so I set off on a spacious road for an unknown land. I called the unknown land “Art” because on the map I was drawing it seemed like a place that had a recognizable name. Not many of the people I talked to knew what the place was like or where it was, but at least they had heard of it. Then came other place names that needed marking on the map of my journey; Career, Faith, Beliefs, Marriage, Family and Evangelical Upbringing. How was I to locate then visit all of these diverse locales on one topography?

I had the notion from the start that God was inviting me to make this journey and I sensed that getting to know Him was important from the outset. God the Father, I believe, set the course and prepared me for the destination. Jesus the Son has been my traveling companion and confidant in discouragement, confusion and joy along the way. The Holy Spirit inspires me through the hard trudging days and quickens me on the exuberant ones.

When I set out I wasn’t sure what “art” was and I didn’t know what being an “artist” meant. I knew I had ideas I wanted to express and visual art became my vehicle of expression. I’ve spent many years and progressed through many phases and genres to learn my craft and find my voice, but by God’s grace and faithfulness He brought me to this place where this body of work I call Prayer Machines has emerged. They have come to embody what I saw in my spirit from the start but they also resonate with other people and speak to them.

I simply use wire lines, forms, colours and hand-driven motion as elements which morph to become ambiguous machine-like objects that invite reflection, stimulate ideas and interaction. With these creations I call Prayer Machines, I’m putting substance to the elusive shadows of the ethereal images I saw as a child but didn’t have the tools yet to bring into focus. Now they’ve finally emerged as vehicles of my imagination to convey visually the journey of faith I’ve been on and to give expression to mystery.


The new Prayer Machines can be seen at The Artist Project show in Toronto, February 18-21 booth # 327. Visit my website or for more information.


A Professional Development Day Out


steam engineLast Saturday was a professional development day for me.

I got up early and drove to Cookstown to visit the annual Cookstown Steam Show.

I was looking for inspiration and found it. I was overwhelmed!

It was park full of gentle, steam sighing, ponderous behemoths from the early days of agricultural mechanization, each one there in all its whirling, spinning, greasy glory.

It was like being surrounded by mammoth Prayer Machines from a time before my Prayer Machines were even thought of. The visual similarities were apparent; big wheels and pulleys driving other big wheels and pulleys. What I liked most was the human interaction. As I watched one antique tractor being started, the owner performed no less than five functions and checks; a squirt of oil here, an adjusting of clearances there, before he even got to turning the crank wheedling the engine to life. Then, even after it was running he was constantly fiddling with it all.

The thing that intrigued me about these machines in relationship to my Prayer Machines was the ‘put together’ nature of their construction. The combination of machined parts and high tolerance mechanisms with “wired together” low tolerance connections; the poetically fragile lack of uniformity in construction. “Almost” rather than “exactly” was the dictum that seemed to prevail.

I also liked the human interaction, especially with the large steam-powered tractors, where the humans operating it seemed to be nurturing them along variously steering, feeding, lubricating and adjusting in a symbiotic relationship as they progressed. The impression that grew on me was that in creating my Prayer Machines I too am creating a technology that is accountable. You can’t just expect to start it and have it “run”, you have to be engaged with it, feel it, adjust it, listen to it, touch it so that it moves and does what it is supposed to do.

I came away that day inspired by the construction of the machines; their symmetrical beauty, practical visual compositions and exposed mechanisms that make them run. I also came home feeling a connection from the past with a new story I am telling in my Prayer Machines now.

Written August 8, 2015

medium steam enginemini steam engine