Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Interview with James Wright

It is a pleasure to interview James Wright a selected artist in Core Gallery’s Open Exhibition for Deptford X 2010. Wright is one of Eighteen artists who were selected from an outstanding pool of entries from across the world by Graham Crowley, one of the UK’s most distinguished living painters, Matt Roberts of Matt Roberts Art and Kate Jones, Marketing Director of John Jones.

The Shrouding, 2009

Wright graduated from the Royal College of Art. His work uses a vocabulary of symbols and motifs, often from historical painting but many of his own making, to denote the themes of original works which the artist revisits. James Wright was singled out by Kay Saatchi in the 2008 Selfridges Art Exhibition: 'Anticipation' as well as Jerwood painting and drawing prizes as well as being shortlisted for John Moores 25. James recently completed a residency at Gloucester Cathedral, culminating in two solo shows: ‘As It Was In the Beginning’ and ‘Memento Mori’.

I speak to Wright to find out about; his motivations for applying to the Open Competition 2010, the work he submitted, how significant the residency at Gloucester Cathedral was in the development of his work and the possibilities of his current practice.

September 2010     >>

CP: What attracted you to apply to the Core Gallery’s Open submission Competition at Deptford X 2010? 

JW: I was excited by Mark Titchner’s statement of intent and felt that my work bore a direct relationship. This along with wanting to be part of a much larger exhibition is what attracted me to apply. I also thought that the calibre of the selectors helped to ensure an exciting and stimulating show. 

The Sacrifice, 2009
CP: Can you tell us about the work that you submitted? 

JW: I submitted three drawing’s that each appropriate particular works from the annals of art history. The Sacrifice traces the composition of Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St Peter, The Shrouding is informed by the work of Gerard David and his lamentation paintings in particular, and The Entombment is after Rogier Van Der Weyden’s The Entombment of Christ. Each drawing displays a reflected image which, along with the subject, reminds us of the fragility of life and the subsequent passing of time. 

CP: Your work is informed by religious iconography. How significant was the artist in residence program at Gloucester Cathedral in the development of your work? 

JW: For some time now, works of art from the Early Renaissance, with their particular idiosyncrasies and peculiar inaccuracies have informed my practice. The residency at Gloucester Cathedral afforded me the time to fully immerse myself within the work. I think that people naturally assume that I am religious person, but that is not the case, and it is certainly not a pre-requisite of the residency program. The fact that my work often addresses Christian beliefs, visualised in an apparent secular narrative, allowed for interesting dialogues to evolve. Attending the cathedrals many services certainly informed my practice and made for a stimulating and thought provoking period of research and study, much of which I continues to feel. 

The Burial, 2010, Acrylic on oak, 30 x 21 cm

CP: Your painting technique is highly informed by traditional methods used by artists from High Renaissance and Flemish schools. Could you describe the techniques you employ? 

JW: A lot of it is actually quite dumb. Simple techniques employed to give believable, realistic painterly and visual effects. What may appear at first to be laboured and heavily worked, can be born from relatively simple means. The biggest challenge often comes from trying to get the paint to do something that it inherently does not want to do.

CP: What artists are you inspired by? 

JW: It is difficult to say. I am certainly inspired by many artists work and quite often a postcard hanging on my studio wall will provide a ‘light bulb’ moment. I think that somewhat unsurprisingly, most people would assume that I am inspired by works of art and artists whose practice is close to my own. However, this is not always the case. Sure, I like to see how certain artists achieve a particular painterly and visual language, but this is usually so that I can employ similar methods within my own work, I’m a kind of magpie in that respect. But, in a contemporary context, I really enjoy seeing works by Nicholas Byrne, Ryan Mosley and Paul Housley for example, and it’s also fair to say that I have a real soft spot for the work of Jane Harris. 

CP: Your paintings are loaded with symbols and motifs that revisit art painting history. By situating the contemporary with the historic, how has this transformed these urban landscapes? 

JW: Much of my work remains esoteric and certainly relies on a knowledge of art history and symbolism. The urban landscape, and more definitively the gutter subject that I choose to represent, are simply my props, my models and a source of continuous inspiration. I’ve grown up and lived in and around cities and large towns all my life, and the familiarity of these scenes helps inform the narrative. I think that at its heart, there is something really curious about introducing low-fi subjects to high-art supports on a scale usually preserved for icon or miniature type works.

The Waster, 2010, Acrylic on oak, 30 x 21 cm

CP: The viewer is presented with intimate, vignette shaped paintings that have been described in a recent article on the BBC as “small and jewel-like”. Is this a way of re-attaching sentiment back to these unwanted and abandoned landscapes? 
The Tomb, 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 21cm

JW: It is certainly about giving life to objects, and in many circumstances a new or even hidden life. The vignette aids this transformative process because of its relationship to portraiture and allows the viewer to attach human attributes to otherwise inanimate objects. The paintings themselves are actually rectangular in format and the vignette is archived by a simple framing device that has it origins in the generic school photograph with it faux gilded cardboard oval mount. Much of the work, because of it relationship to religion, has sentiment attached to it that is subsequently thrust upon the depicted object. 

CP: Do you have any forthcoming projects or news to divulge? 

JW: I do, I am planning an exhibition in a major public space outside of London, but it is perhaps too early to divulge in greater detail. 

CP: Thank you very much, James Wright.

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