Spotlight: James Aitken

His Boundless imagination and keen visual stylejames aitken make him one of the major defining artistic forces of the company – but perhaps the least known! To introduce this creative genius, we sat down with James to talk about inspiration, his favorite FCT production and dinner with Jules Verne.

What are you working on right now?
A museum in Russia, another in Chattanooga, a baker’s dozen of various retail and architectural lighting designs, developing an artist residency program on our Catskills campus, and thinking a lot about puppets – parades – and pageants

Who are some of your clients?
Our design firm, Invisible Circus, does a fair amount of retail and architectural lighting design. For the past decade we have been the lighting designer for Nordstrom; we also work with Anthropologie, Dior, Armani, and L’Oreal. We design museum lighting with Technical Artistry another New York firm, including the exhibit lighting for the Nascar Hall of Fame, Liberty Memorial WWI Museum, and the Griffith Observatory.

What is your design process or day to day design routine?
Each day is its own beast…but sometimes it is a mad circus full of a very strange and gibbering cast of character with travel to exotic malls in the heartland and dingy European theaters…… but much of the time it is not very sexy…a paperwork shuffle. Theater projects are the most freeing….you get to bury yourself in a subject or a story and cast out for connections between all its dirty bits….and then it all blinks into a brief existence and is gone. Ephemeral and vague.

What has your experience at Flying Carpet been like?
I have never felt more like a part of a creative company than in my work with Flying Carpet. The process allows for a project to grow (which is really exciting)…and all along the way you help nudge it a little this way or that, add an idea or help flush out a detail. In the end the final piece always feels whole and of a single voice…..but when you know the right angle to look at it from you get to see all the facets that make it up. That is exciting and (not to be too cliché) a bit magical…..

Who do you look to for inspiration?
There are a few artists that I can count on to get my brain firing…

Artists Dave McKean and Ted McKeever (both known primarily for their work in comic books). McKean was a major inspiration for the scenic deign on The Medicine Show. He creates amazingly rich layered allegorical worlds through digital collage. McKeever on the other hand creates these beautifully terrible Kafka-esqe landscapes.
(never really put together the similarity in the names before…could mean something)

Musically I can never go wrong with Bob Dylan or Tom Waits.

The light sculptures of Christian Boltanski and Joseph Cornell’s boxes……

And writers…..that is a really long list…..lately it has been China Mieville, KB Baker and Warren Ellis, and of course, Phillip K Dick.

Please finish this sentence: Flying Carpet Theatre is a great creative outlet because_____.

The projects are engaging, the people inspiring, the worlds visually intriguing, and….the conversation is always open. The process is always a dialogue….among artists

Do you listen to music when you are designing? If so, what is your go to artist or song?
I tend to listen to talk radio and audio books when I am working…….mainly non-fiction (fiction draws me in a little too much)

If you could go back in time to visit any era where would you go and why?
While it is really tempting to go ride a dinosaur…I think the late 1800’s. There was a lot going on…a real paradigm shift. In the last 30 years of that century year you could have had a dinner party with H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Tesla, Chung Ling Soo, Vincent Van Gogh, Marie Curie, Freud, Susan B Anthony, Queen Victoria, and Jack the Ripper.

I am not sure what to serve at that dinner…..but I think about it….often

What are the highlights of your career thus far?
Three come to mind (and they are all theater related).

Once working on design late at night in the redwoods of Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s outdoor theater, a deer wandered out of the mist and into the light cue I was creating onstage…it was an absurdly magical moment

When the parachute set opened and closed in FCT production of Lilliom.

A crazed tour to the Seattle Fringe Festival with my first theater company back when we were all too young to believe in limits and had no doubt that we would accomplish everything. I don’t think I have the perspective to say if the show we did was any good….but the members of that company are still some of my favorite people to work with today.

Which Flying Carpet show was your favorite to work on, and why?
Chung Ling Soo takes that prize. The show worked on so many levels …and it was a real success in terms of the scale and function of the design