JamesPaul Palmer-Wilson with his piece inside outside in the MCAD Sculpture Garden
JamesPaul Palmer-Wilson with his piece inside outside in the MCAD Sculpture Garden
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Senior furniture design major JamesPaul Palmer-Wilson is getting ready to graduate.

Originally from Chicago, Palmer-Wilson attended high school in Nashville before coming to MCAD. During his time here, he has been a part of the Black Artist Student Union and a student worker at the Help Desk.

Palmer-Wilson’s piece inside outside is currently on view in the MCAD Sculpture Garden, a space filled with permanent and rotating works by MCAD students, alumni, faculty, and friends. Located on the south end of campus along 26th Street, the garden invigorates not only the campus but also the Whittier neighborhood as a whole. The work was created for Public Art/Art in Public Places, a course that allows students to learn, experiment, and collaborate on high-quality works for outdoor display.

Here, Palmer-Wilson talks about his passion for furniture design, making work in different media, and his plans following his spring 2019 graduation.

Cookies and cream lamps and Fondue Foundation(Leaning Tower of Capitalism) in Palmer-Wilson’s senior exhibition.
Cookies and Cream Lamps and Fondue Foundation (Leaning Tower of Capitalism) in Palmer-Wilson’s senior exhibition.

How did you choose MCAD?

I came here for the Pre-College Summer Session in the summer before my senior year. I was going to go for graphic design but then realized I didn't like sitting at a desk for long periods of time. I felt like furniture would be way more explorative. I could work with my hands and utilize a lot of the skills I had picked up in high school, when I was making sculptures.

Did you know right away that you wanted to study furniture design?

Yes. I thought, “I might as well fully commit myself to furniture and see where that takes me.” I never switched majors—I’m one of the few students who consistently had a plan.

With furniture design, you’re not really making anything new—you’re just remixing old ideas. Nothing is truly original, so it’s like, “How can I make something my own while keeping it true to its function?” That’s why I can allow myself to play a lot. I can look at other things and get inspiration and then take things that are looked at as ordinary and make them extraordinary.

“With furniture design, you’re not really making anything new—you’re just remixing old ideas.”

What kind of furniture do you like to make?

I do a lot of accessories that I mainly make for furniture, like small objects that complement other pieces of furniture, or I’ll make a whole mockup of a room or space I see the objects in.

My artistic process is mainly made up of found material and scrap material. I really enjoy working through ideas and problems with 3D modeling. In my current work, I’m focused on walnut and how it’s seen as a prized material in the world of furniture, but it’s also ironic. My senior show is about how all shades of brown are beautiful even though society sees being black as an imperfection. I hope to show black as being elegant. I represent this idea through the use of dark, hardwoods as well as browns, tans, and creams with knots, cracks, and a pattern that resembles stretch marks.Palmer-Wilson’s senior project installed in the 235 Gallery in MCAD’s Main Building

Palmer-Wilson’s senior project installed in the 235 Gallery in MCAD’s Main Building
Palmer-Wilson’s senior project installed in the 235 Gallery in MCAD’s Main Building


Can you talk more about your Sculpture Garden piece inside outside
?

At first, I really didn’t know what to make for the class. We had $300 as far as reimbursement for materials and it was kind of like, “What can withstand the elements and what would really bring something to the Sculpture Garden that people haven’t really seen?”
inside outside, 2018, PLA, steel, and mixed media

inside outside, 2018, PLA, steel, and mixed media
inside outside, 2018, PLA, steel, and mixed media

I was inspired by the huge fish tank piece, Reduce, by Aaron Culey ’16. I was also really into domestic spheres at the time—how can I represent a home? How can I show the presence of people using the absence of body?

Aaron Culey, Reduce, 2015, recycled bottle lids, fish tank, lead, and found glass
Aaron Culey, Reduce, 2015, recycled bottle lids, fish tank, lead, and found glass

inside outside is actually a self-portrait. Broken down into two parts, it’s the mind and the soul—each has its own room. The soul is the “living room.” It’s your wants and desires and people can easily see this because our decorative choices express, “I want this, I want to share that.” Each of these details can be illuminated by what you do, who you interact with, what your job status is, and what you watch. The living room is for social gathering and expression. The bedroom, on the other hand, is the mind. It’s more closed off, it can be perceived as dark due to the privacy of its nature, but it’s often more spacious to the inhabitant.

I wanted to create something with which you had to be thoughtful in how you viewed it, specifically with the comparison of a shared or private space. With the mind, I wanted it to look like it was slowly closing, or cautiously opening, so you have to enjoy it with what you are ultimately allowed to see. The whole exterior is made from different types of scrap wood I found in the 3D Shop. My piece simultaneously shows how much waste is left over from the institutional environment.

The living room (soul) of inside outside
The living room (soul) of inside outside
 

The bedroom (mind) of inside outside
The bedroom (mind) of inside outside

Did you enjoy working on a piece of public art?

Definitely. The public art sphere is one of those things that really connects the artist to their community. I have a bunch of other public art pieces as models of concepts I want to implement—I just have to find the right location.

You’ve been involved in the Black Artist Student Union, which organized the group exhibition Navigate in 2017 and 2019. Can you talk about that?

I didn't even do any furniture for the 2017 exhibition—I did a painting, kind of. It was a social commentary on what it means to be famous, how one would attain fame, and the difference between becoming famous for the right reasons versus becoming famous for the wrong reasons and how blackness is right in between that. It’s a fine line to walk on because it can either contribute to fame or detract from it.

In the 2019 Navigate show, I created a set of dominoes to show something that was very influential to me and my family. It is also universal as well. I made the design my own by using a laser cutter, which gave the dominoes a smoother feel. It was a very interactive piece—I taught a lot of people how to play dominoes and then walked away. Some people don't like it because they felt it was not art, but most of the participants felt at ease and welcome in the whole experience.

dominoes
Welcome to the Boneyard, 2018, laser-cut wood

What do you have planned after graduation?

I’m starting a podcast. Well, multiple podcasts actually. One is to bridge the gap between social media and actual human communication. I feel like no one is talking to each other as much as they used to before. The whole idea of the podcast is getting together with a group of friends and having those conversations of: What if we didn't have the internet? We can be friends with people online but not really in real life—how does that change the friendship dynamic? I’m working with Radio K to be my host because they wanted to work with new and upcoming artists and they are trying to start their own podcast channel.

I’m a little burnt out on making art, and I can still make art but it’s just not visual. I feel like I can reach more people through podcasts and talking about my experiences. People can relate to experience; people can’t necessarily relate to fine art and not everyone will understand it. I feel like a podcast is easily digestible.

“My senior show is about how all shades of brown are beautiful even though society sees being black as an imperfection.”

What are your other podcast ideas?

I have a political hip-hop one I want to start as well, talking about how hip-hop affects the community, the culture, fashion, etcetera. It’s been really influential to America’s growth and I want to get into the roots of where it came from and where it is now.

The last one is called the drunken tea podcast. I basically want to go to tea houses and record those conversations. You don’t really sit down at a tea house for the tea only—you go with a group of people or you meet new friends there. I want you to feel immersed within the conversation—I want you to hear the cup hitting the table or the tea being brewed and really feel like you're a part of this environment.

Do you go to tea houses often?

Yes, I do. I wish I did it way more often because it’s really relaxing. It helps me find my zen and be way more creative.

What’s your favorite tea?

Black oolong tea is the best.

Are you planning to continue making furniture?

I might do some furniture photography. I’m in conversation with a new company about doing some furniture work. I would want to work for a smaller local furniture manufacturing place rather than a huge company because there’s more freedom.
Caramel taffy, Fondue Foundation, peanut butter mint chocolate chip cookies—Palmer-Wilson incorporated food puns into his senior show works.

Caramel taffy, Fondue Foundation, peanut butter mint chocolate chip cookies—Palmer-Wilson incorporated food puns into his senior show works.
Caramel Taffy, Fondue Foundation, Cocoa Hooks, Peanut Butter Cup, Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies—Palmer-Wilson incorporated food puns into his senior show works.

What are you working toward long-term?

I want to have my own contracting company to do custom furniture. I don't want to be too specific as far as what I'm making because I like to make a lot of different things. I can paint and draw, which is what you need to be able to do for furniture. I wanted to be a furniture designer because I like interior design—I want to make the vibe in the room, which is what makes the room.

Is there anything you’re taking away from your time at MCAD?

It’s all about location and timing. The things you apply to art can be applied to life.

To see more of JamesPaul Palmer-Wilson’s work, visit jamespalmerwilson.com.