James Capper

Born in London, 1987, James Capper utilises his background in agricultural mechanics to fabricate large-scale mobile sculptures. Capper completed his Bachelors in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, before studying Sculpture at the Royal College of Art. Existing as models and prototypes, Capper’s work can be understood as a modular chain, along which his practice evolves, learns and builds upon itself. This process has been broken down and adapted by the artist into a sculptural language, with families of works being grouped into ‘divisions’ upon a continuous production line. The four divisions which encompass Capper’s practice so far are described as the ‘Offshore’ division, the ‘Carving’ division, the ‘Material Handling’ division, and the ‘Earth-Marking’ division.


Engineering is pivotal to Capper’s practice, often toeing the line between the useful and the useless; his recurring engagement with the act of earthmoving references the prolific inventor Robert Gilmour Le Tourneau’s (1888–1969) experimental machines which were used during World War II. The ‘Earth-Marking’ division of Capper’s practice considers the traces left by machinery upon the ground. RIPPER, 2008, adopts the visual language of farm machinery, with the functional approach of varying attachable and detachable ‘teeth’. These teeth act as their own art objects as well as ‘parts’ of the mechanical whole. The mobility of a machine without purpose invokes something more human than its laboured counter parts. TREAD-TOE, 2014, was Capper’s first functioning hydraulically powered sculpture. With a single-person passenger cab at its head, TREAD-TOE could be operated to tip from its front legs to its hind legs, a movement that soon seemed timid, ponderous, or even awkward.


Capper’s work as a ‘speculative engineer’ has recently led him into an exploration of the interaction between mechanical and biological processes. Inspired by vertebrate evolution, MUDSKIPPER, a walking Thames workboat, mimics the eponymous walking fish as it grows limbs and walks out of the water. IRIS, 2020, adapts a mechanical grab, normally used for moving scrap vehicles at a junk yard, into a rotating flower head. IRIS reacts to the light, its dancing petals attempting to follow the sun across the day – a phenomena found in real flowers. This new avenue of Capper’s sculpture begins to question the limits of machinery, anthropomorphising the metal in motion.


During the 2020 lockdown, Capper reactivated an old machine from his Masters, the HYDRA PAINTER. In his series of ROTARY PAINTINGS, Capper has made traces the art object, while the mobile sculpture acts a performative tool to produce the paintings. A significant body of work, the ROTARY PAINTINGS reference the timelessness of modernist art: the boldness of their shape accessing both Jasper Johns’ Target (1961) and Damien Hirst’s Spin Paintings (1992-2008), while the colour and unique consistency of the paint bears similarity to the hand-painted steel sculpture of David Smith. Each painting forms a record of the day on which it was made, the titles being drawn from media headlines and government briefings swing from absurd to caustic in their humour.


In 2011, James Capper received the Royal Society of British Sculptors Bursary Award, in 2009 he was the youngest artist ever awarded The Jack Goldhill Prize for Sculpture from the Royal Academy of Arts and was nominated for the Jerwood Sculpture Prize. Capper’s work has been showcased at institutions, museums and non-profit organisations around the world, notable solo presentations of his work include RIPPER TEETH IN ACTION at Modern Art Oxford (2011); DIVISIONS at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2013); SIX STEP at Rio dell’Orso with Alma Zevi for the Venice Biennale (2015); PROTOTYPES at CGP London (2016); ATLAS A SPOLETO! / TELESTEP A SPOLETO!, Anna Mahler Association project for the Mahler & LeWitt Studios & Festival dei Due Mondi, Spoleto, Italy (2016); SCULPTURE & HYDRAULICS at The Edge Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts, University of Bath (2017); JAMES CAPPER at Bathurst Art Gallery, New South Wales Australia (2017); HYDRA STEP / HYDRA SHUFFLE at Forth Arts Residency, Sydney, Australia; AEROCAB at the 3-D Foundation, Verbier, Switzerland; MUDSKIPPER, WALKING WORKBOAT commissioned by Battersea Power Station, London, UK; and Prototypes of Speculative Engineering at MONA, Tasmania (2021-2022).