Artist Interview with Four Magazine surrounded by large format vanitas works at the Cafe Royal Club


This just arrived back into the London studio to see this published in this months edition of FOUR MAgazine. titled 'Malerisch fotografiert', this interview was given when I first met Eva-Luise Schwarz, it was surrounded by Vanitas works at the recent exhibition at the Club, Cafe Royal. Thank you Eva; it was a real pleasure.


Article by Eva-Luise Scharwz for FOUR magazine Translated by Kristina Detje The photographic paintings of Alexander James deal with the fugacity and capture a fleeing moment which is unrepeatable. He is an old-school artist. Very old-school. Alexander James creates his work in the style of Flemish artists of the 17th century. For his still-lives he grows flower and breeds butterflies, burns vases in pizza ovens and takes as much time for it as he needs to. I meet James at the Café Royal London, where his work is currently exhibited. He tells me that he previously locked himself in his studio for up to a year until all elements for his work were ready. “Psychotherapists call it the flow-method, where artists focus only on their work for long periods and don’t recognise anything outside their creativity” says James. The big difference to the Flemish painters? For 30 years now, James submerges his objects, animals and humans in enormous tanks with purified water, moves the surface with a paintbrush and captures the pictures with 10x8 photographic plates – no Photoshop, no post-editing. “If I had a digital camera, I would just photograph randomly and be a brilliant photo editor but I decided to edit only in front of the camera. That makes the moment irreplaceable.”

James uses water as a medium to create a painted effect. He came up with the idea to work with object under water on diving trips in the Maldives as a young man. Tourists left their rubbish behind and James turned the rubbish into sculptures, which he put on the riffs as a statement. The thought developed into the topic Memento Mori, the passing life. Everything circles around love, decadence, death and betrayal as a playground between object and lens for James. As a reference to the Flemish painters he also uses cut flowers, whose short-lived beauty disappears quickly, as a theme. Also the motive of the floating Ophelia, reference to the Pre-Raphaelite painting by John Everett Millais, embraces this topic. The model’s dress is hand-made; the halo is made of 24 carat gold and hollowed with acid so that it flows in the water. James taught the model how to do yoga to help her relax. His studio is all black – ceiling, walls and floor – and the black water tanks create a womb-like atmosphere, so James. For the still-lives James uses all kind of tricks, from safety pins to little weights, to fix the objects in the water. “It is important that the camera stays dry though as the surface tension of the water gives me endless possibilities: Imagine extremely complicated painting, still wet and movable. Now I take a paintbrush and move every point and colour, certain facets can be minimised or disappear. With a paintbrush, which was also used by Renaissance painters, but without any colour pigments, I can create movements which allow me to capture a unique photographic piece of art”, so James. He adds “It is big fun – I never get bored”.

For his butterfly series “Swarm” he went to South America to buy butterfly cocoons. He did not want to purchase them online but strengthen the connecting to his work. Not only did he buy several species but also the mother plants to breed the butterflies. He did not want to take life from nature but give back hundreds. For another series he developed a new process to extract all pigments from flower petals – for example rose petals and poppy petals – so that they became transparent. They had an extremely sensitive reaction to movements under water – with an astonishing result. One of his most famous pieces, Grace, is a still life from the 16th century with flowers from that period. Over seven months James grew French and parrot tulips, made a terracotta vase and burned it in a pizza oven in his studio. Grace was auctioned off at Christie’s for more than 17,000 EUR in October 2013. At the beginning of 2014 James moved to Moscow to work with Russian materials and people on his new pieces. “I put my whole studio in a truck, about 10 tons, and drove myself to Russia. There, I lived and worked in the Red October Gallery. I have never felt that understood as an artist as I did in Russia. I wanted to create my art locally as my work does not make any sense without a deeper connection. Without this dialog, my work would just be paintings on the wall…” Water is an extremely important topic for James. He tells me of countries like the USA, where ocean water is desalinated in nuclear power stations. Also in Europe, namely Barcelona, 20% of the water comes from nuclear power stations. This rises to 90% in the summer months, so James. He regrets that the human race has made some fatal decisions when it comes to water and crude oil. These two elements will be combines in his next project: He will move his studio to Siberia, produce sculptures from frozen crude oil and photograph them under water. Crude oil freezes at -30C; with temperatures of -45C in the Siberian winter, he should not have any problems. If his ideas ever end? “The ideas will never end, rather the time to realise these ideas” And this is when we say goodbye and outside on Piccadilly Circus the time goes by a little bit faster again.

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