James White: ‘…and from this Position’ @ Max Wigram Gallery

Max Wigram gallery presents the solo show of London based artist James White. Titled ‘…and from this Position’ the exhibition comprises of four new black and white paintings.

White’s subject matter emphasises on the depiction of what one would describe as modern still life. Each painting portrays, in an almost cinematographic mode, a pre or post event environment that triggers the viewer’s imagination to speculate its concealed arcane narrative.

The surgical precision of White’s technique, resulting in a masterful photorealistic finish, leaves no doubts about the artistic skill as well as his keen interest in the photography domain. The inanimate atmosphere in White’s works is infused with a toyful verve permeated in the hypostasis of every depicted object. Shinny surfaces, reflecting mirrors and glass, they all voyage our eye within the given locus of each painting. Not being able to inspect each setting in its entirety, the viewer feels like they are inexplicably put behind a keyhole restricting their view.

The sheets of opaque white Plexiglas are used as an architectural feature to horizontally cover the south side of each painting. This not only pronounces the illumination of the surfaces above but -once again- creates a barrier or obstacle in the viewer’s vision as if we were positioned behind a wall or a window. The imaginary grid lines formed by the careful arrangement of the objects in each setting and juxtaposed against the horizontal substrate are redolent of a Vitruvianesque grid pattern.

White’s narrative introduces us to the absence of human presence via the conduit of object biography. And in this almost metaphysical domain, the aesthetics of disappearance becomes the signature of the artist’s pictorial language.

James White spoke to Kostas Prapoglou about his work:

REVma -/+: How did the aesthetics of photorealism influence your visual language?
J.W.: Perhaps this is unexpected but I can quite safely say that the aesthetics of photorealism have never had an influence on my work. My paintings are often referred to as photorealist and I can, of course, understand this in stylistic terms as visually similar things will inevitably get lumped together. While the original american photorealists were, in some ways, reacting directly to abstract expressionism and then minimalism, I would have to say that my interest in the relentless repetition and purity of the minimalist movement resonates more with my approach than the desire to perfectly replicate a photograph using paint. My paintings are as precise as they need to be but I could spend another couple of weeks on each one making them more ‘photographic’ but what would be the point? The paintings look as they do because it’s important that they are as styleless as possible, colour choices and expressive artistic flourishes are a distraction and for the work to operate in the right way it needs to have a numb, almost forensic feeling about it. The function of the act of painting in my case serves as a means of introducing a layer of time to a given moment, it focuses the gaze and lends the objects or scenes an intensity that would be missing if they were to remain as a photographic snapshot. There’s definitely a strong sculptural element too, an emphasis on the objecthood of the artwork and an interest in the dialogue between the skin of the painting and the substrate.

REVma -/+: The depiction of mirrors, glass surfaces and reflections is omnipresent in all your exhibited works. What is your perception of illusion and to what extent do you feel this is explored through your paintings?
J.W.: I think ‘illusion’ would imply some kind of deception or trickery and that certainly wouldn’t be my intention – there are mirrors but no smoke! Reflective surfaces do appear regularly in the paintings, they offer different visual trajectories – the possibility to view an object or to approach a narrative from multiple perspectives.

REVma -/+: Your work underlines the challenge between human presence and absence. Who is the real protagonist?
J.W.: For me, absence has to be more interesting, it presents a more abstract psychological space where the residual, the evidence we leave behind becomes the starting point for a more open ended discussion.

REVma -/+: Do you consider yourself a painter or a photographer?
J.W.: Not sure it’s useful to claim to be one thing or the other – I do both so perhaps it’s easiest and best to stick with artist.