For more than 10 years Mr. Cullinane has been exploring the metaphorical power and psychological significance of children's book and dictionary illustrations. Through laborious process Cullinane transforms illustration into complex, often seemingly nonsensical images that float somewhere between the figurative and non-figurative. In the Vault series Cullinane flips, turns and inverts copies of a dictionary illustration of a Gothic arch into geometric abstractions as in Vault Rift 9 and adheres them to a poster pinup board on panel with glue and black or white map pins. The illustrations are architectural yet flat and two dimensional while the map pins rise above the surface simultaneously reminding the viewer of the illusion of dimension in the illustration and the actual dimension of the pins and panel. The tension between fictional or implied space and physical space is central to Cullinane's studio practice. For this artist, process is the best avenue for exploring the tension between these two types of spaces. This process, “has to do with finding a way to move beyond what I think I know about an image…” to arrive at something more meaningful.
In another series involving illustrations from a Spanish fascist exercise book for children, the artist layers and inverts multiple copies of children at play. Sometimes the image is reproduced in nothing but map pins (silver, black or white or a combination of the three) as in, Jacob Legna diptych. The obvious intensity of the source material here needs no mention, however, this meaning is lost to the viewer even more than the images are lost through the process of repetition, inversion and/or layering.
In his dictionary collages Mr. Cullinane set himself an algorithm of combining two words with their respective illustrations. The results are tiny black and white collages of strange new oddities like a Gloxigen Mask, which is a word and image combination of glockenspiel and oxygen mask. Cullinane's images may be enigmatic but they are physically layered and contain multiple metaphorical meanings.
James Cullinane received his BFA from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science in 1979. He lives and works in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY.