Girl with Pale Hair 4, 2014
Flowers Gallery is pleased to present an
exhibition of new work by Claerwen James. A catalogue with a
foreword by New Yorker critic Adam Gopnik will accompany the exhibition.
Claerwen James is known for her painted
portraits of young female subjects, which explore the private
moments captured by photographic snapshots. By painting directly
from photographs, James keeps a deliberate distance between herself
and the sitter, in order to observe more closely what may be
simultaneously revealed and withheld within the frozen moment in time.
James's photographic sources vary from
family pictures and photographs taken by the artist herself, to
anonymous images, sourced from car boot sales, junk shops, the
pages of magazines and from film stills. In all cases, they are not
portraits in the usual sense of the word. The identity of each
sitter is either unknown or irrelevant to James, who scours the
images for a particular quality or presence held within the image
itself - a self-contained narrative forever separated from the flow.
Quietly enigmatic, the sitters gaze
outwards towards an unseen photographer. Her subjects - girls and
young women, whose beings are in a continual state of
transformation - invite the viewer's interpretation of their
narratives to extend both before and after the photographic
event. As James says:
"Thresholds of one kind or another
are approaching. Perhaps they are here. Perhaps they are already
past. A photograph is fraught with the sense of time passing - the
impassable gulf between that instant and this. Unfulfilled
potential and paths not taken."
James cites Corot, Degas and early
Picasso as unfailing sources of ideas and provocations, and in
several new works this influence is made explicit by the
appropriation of their subject matter. Girl without a Basket
of Flowerspays homage to Picasso's paintingYoung girl with a basket
of flowers, 1905, refiguring the child's awkward posture and
brooding countenance in its present day incarnation:Girl without a
Basket of Flowers 2.
Two paintings featuring older female
subjects Visitation 1 (After Raverat) and
Visitation 2 (still from a short film by C.B.), which
refers to a film by Cordelia Beresford, convey their tenderness by
a strikingly simple arrangement of shapes and subdued tones. In
both, James was drawn to the two female protagonists, who are
involved intensely in one another and the present moment they inhabit.
James's minimal reduction of the image
reflects the fragmented nature of the photographed subject;
backgrounds are replaced by atmospheric voids, tell-tale signs of
clothing are flattened, and colours are muted. In 2006, Francis
Spufford wrote: "All the emotional work of the painting has
gone into modelling as distinct and economical a sense as possible
of the measure of what vanished with the original moment: into a
tender and disturbing statement of what gets lost with lost time."