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Artist Alexander James stages a major solo exhibition at The Studio Building, Notting Hill
Grace, 2011 by Alexander James.

LONDON.- Artist Alexander James is staging a major solo exhibition in London from 25th of April 2013. Entitled Intersection, it is a culmination of the artist’s long-standing fascination with the theme Vanitas and demonstrates his mastery of an entirely unique artistic process.

Using objects from nature and handmade props, James constructs ephemeral sculptural installations underwater in black tanks filled with highly purified water, the final stage of which is to photograph the scene. He utilises the natural interaction between the object, light and lens when submerged in water to create a painterly effect. All of his photographs are presented ‘as shot’, free from post-production and digital editing. In an age increasingly dominated by digital imagery, James’ dedication to in-camera purity adds an additional layer of intrigue to his artwork. This exhibition showcases the series Vanitas, with complimentary new works from Swarm and Glass which embody his varied and complex oeuvre.

The inspiration for many of James’ works is taken from a long artistic tradition which highlights the temporality and fragility of life. This is particularly evident in his series Vanitas which is directly influenced by the 17th century Dutch masters. These works depict objects such as decaying fruit, cut flowers and valuable items to illustrate the transience of life and earthly pleasures. The subtle yet pervading presence of water in these works not only changes the aesthetics but symbolises the power that water has both to give life and to take it away. The underlying messages in these works have been the focus of James’ artistic output for almost a decade and his various explorations of this subject-matter will converge in this exhibition. The works have been produced on an unprecedented large format scale, so as to completely envelop the viewer.

The work Grace, an artist’s proof at 2 metres in height, which was unveiled at Intersection, exemplifies all the processes that James has developed to create depictions of organic materials that celebrate life whilst capturing its transience. The work portrays a still-life scene of colourful tulips placed in a simple terracotta vase. The symbolism of the work is manifold; some of the blooms are beginning to droop and lose their petals and a butterfly flies in the shadow of the vase. These are motifs that would have been familiar to a 17th century Dutch audience, but still resonate with a contemporary audience.

This impact is heightened by the fact that all the elements have to be constructed and preserved underwater. Even simple additions such as the silk drapery are remarkable in not seeming heavy and saturated. However, it is the butterfly which presents the most elaborate challenge for the artist, as they are photographed whilst still living. First anesthetised through a lowering of temperature – a natural occurrence in the wild – the butterflies are then carefully suspended on a silk thread weighted down in temperature-controlled water. For his art, James has become an entomologist, breeding and housing tropical specimens in his studio. Even the flowers require careful preservation and remain in the tanks for long periods whilst still opening their petals in the day and closing at night. Through this exploration in the pursuit of completing Vanitas, James was led to develop these complex ideas further for the series Swarm and Glass, which together have resulted in Intersection.

Alexander James was born in 1967 in London where he currently lives and works. It is in his docklands studio that he constructs giant tanks of water in which to produce his work.

In addition to solo shows in London, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Sydney and Paris, his work features in numerous collections across the globe, specifically the Davis Museum Lisboa, Rothschild Group, DDB Group and Lend Lease Group.

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