We’re back featuring our Members to showcase the talent that occupies our buildings. To start the year off, we interview Rockella Space Member James Thomas. James has been a Rockella Space Member since 2022 and has a studio at One Eyed Studios.

James A. Thomas (b. London 1971, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) makes large dimensional cutouts and photographic prints that turn two-dimensional material into dynamic sculptural works that draw on real and inspired natural forms and symbols to create a contemporary vision of nature’s dueling forces of divinity and decay.

After graduating from the RCA, James began a career in the fashion houses of London, Paris and then New York City.  In his work as a designer and creative director for couture and luxury fashion brands, he developed a distinctive method whereby his collage process of illustration became closely intertwined with his design and drapery technique.  James ultimately evolved his expressive modern sensibility to art and illustration and his trademark cut paper works have been published in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Elle as well as publications and exhibitions.

James draws inspiration on form and color from a range of sources pre-colonial Central African and Egyptian Art, Henri Matisse, Romare Bearden, and the New Modern American Sculpture of 1965-75.  Through his modern abstractions, he has built an instinctive visceral language of universal expression and story-telling.

We interviewed James to better understand his world of design, collage, and what inspires his work.

To learn more about the creatives who call Rockella Space home, head over to the People page for a full list of in-depth interviews.


Who are you and what do you do?


My name is James Thomas and I was born and raised in London, England. I graduated with my MA from the Royal College of Art and came to New York in 1998 to work as a Fashion Designer at Calvin Klein. I am now living in Brooklyn and am a full-time working artist at Rockella Space in Ridgewood, Queens.  

You have one of our favorite studios in One Eyed Studios. How long have you been at Rockella Space and what is your favorite thing about having a studio at One Eyed Studios?



I have had my studio at the Rockella space for almost two years. The building has been great for me and my process. It has a built-in activity of energetic and talented people, but gives me privacy to work and focus. It’s also great that our building is in the center of a larger artistic community of young musicians and artists in Ridgewood.

Have you connected and/or created a community with any other artists in the building?


Yes – I have been lucky to meet and work with Luis at Impreso Printing who is also at One-Eyed Studios.  He has a print shop and is also a Photographer, Animator, and Artist, so I often work with him on my prints.

Tell us about your work. What inspires you to create the work that you do?


The final result and media of my work vary – I work in mixed media, photographic prints, and sculpture.  But I always start by cutting paper to sculpt raw form. I’m inspired by the infinite subject of nature, and the themes of evolution and motion.

What are the specific materials you use in your collage work and how did these materials find their way into your work?


Over the past few years, I have been working with colored camera gels, intended for theatre lighting. I’ve grown to understand the capabilities of this material and I love the playful nature of it. The movement and response are less static than paper. The transparency gives an exciting and almost limitless color through overlayed combinations. I love taking the nothingness of the raw material and making it come to life.

You switched from Fashion to Fine Art recently. Tell us about your decision to leave the fashion industry and pursue a career as a fine artist.


My evolution into fine art started about 10 years ago. Going from fashion to art felt like a natural progression for me.  My thinking and my techniques – my paper cutouts – are the same, but the subject matter and scale have shifted.   Rather than creating a product, I’m enjoying the challenge of creating a larger visual world.


How has looking at photographic film transparencies on a lightbox within the fashion industry influenced your current approach to your work?


There is a direct link from my career in fashion design to my art practice: Thorough research, and examination of form, paper cutting  and draping.  In a similar way to the way fashion designs were draped, my dimensional/sculptural cut acetates are hung/draped/twisted and folded onto the wooden canvas to build up an image.

Your work has an almost digital aesthetic/presentation but is created using analog collaging techniques. How do digital techniques and advances find themselves in your work?


That’s funny… I get asked a lot whether my prints are done by AI (they’re not) but I take it as a compliment! My work can appear very digital and futuristic in some ways but, it is extremely analog… scissors to paper!

Your work seems to hint at photography in many ways. How does photography influence your work?


I’ve always been fascinated with inanimate medium coming to life and the middle space between a photographic reality and man-made primitive cutouts.

Do any of your works exist as three-dimensional objects? If so, can you describe how they exist in the world?


I am currently starting to work on sculpture for an exhibition early next year.  These will be life-sized mixed media pieces that are a physical embodiment of the flora series but abstracted.

You have played around with various subject matter from the body to imagery representing flora and fauna. What is your favorite subject matter to focus on and why?


Currently, I am having fun with the flora. I like the way it’s such a universal motif and a symbol of nature and life… infinite subject matters.

How important is color in your work and how do you determine how to use it?


Color is everything! I enjoy being fearless with color and I see color as connected to the limbic system- the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses.

How important is scale in your work and why?


I think scale is specific to the subject matter. Right now, the flora series I am working on is getting larger and larger with each new piece, and it feels like the right scale to me. It seems to erase the “tweeness” of what flowers can project.  When they are large the flowers get out of the literal and become energy or a projection of it.

You recently did a commission in ceramics. How did transferring your work into this medium affect your following works and will ceramics make a more permanent appearance in your practice?


Yes, I worked on an installation of plates for a luxury resort, which was a fun large-scale project.  It was great to collaborate with ceramicist Olivia Barry @oliviabarrybyhand. That was a fun project and an effortless collaboration.

That project brief was Mediterranean in theme other than that I could do what I felt was right.

Future ceramics,  yes, I have 30 pieces ready to go into a kiln at the studio… I enjoy working on an aesthetic through multiple disciplines.

How has printmaking played a role in your practice and the way you work today?


Printmaking is a discipline that I have experience in and enjoy and it’s the media I have shown when I have exhibited at art fairs internationally.  Today I love to make the 3-dimensional originals and then photograph them face-on on the lightbox. So the overall look completely changes, and the final print resembles a painting rather than a collage which is quite interesting.

Which artists have influenced you and your work?


Some of my inspirations are:

Henri Matisse

Romare Bearden

B. Kitaj

The New American Sculpture 1965-75

Pre-colonial Central African and Egyptian art

Who would be on your guest list if you were to invite anyone alive or dead to a dinner party?



Malcolm X

Muhammad Ali

Grace Jones

Mahalia Jackson

David Byrne

Fela Kuti

Miles Davis

David Bowie

What projects/exhibitions have you got coming up?


I am looking forward to an international solo show early next year… I am finalizing the details over the next weeks and I look forward to sharing then.

Where can people see your work?


Right now IRL, at the First Class British Airways/American Airlines lounge at Terminal 8 in JFK airport they have installed five commissioned artworks of mine on permanent display.