After his initiation to Working Project last October (with a three-month residency culminating with the applauded solo exhibition, A Kid Who Walked the Plank, James continues to question his position in a biographical narrative. A seemingly straightforward (and self-explanatory) millennial dialogue with oneself (especially telling for an artist whose Instagram is at 30k and counting), Sharper than Razor Blades is anything but ‘clickable’ content. Weaving between mediums of digital collage, paint and fabrics, James tells a story that is not just his own, but that of his peers, his neighbours, his city; not only of a dreamlike past but of an overwhelmingly digitalized future. James uses technological advancement as both his point of critique and as simple testimony; Sharper than Razor Blades is a case-study showing how hierarchal order within preceding societies has been appropriated by contemporary popular sub-cultures, tradition usurped in the name of fashion.
I caught up with the young artist to talk dreams of the future and the past, both the real and the fabricated.
So, what inspired you to create this exhibition, let’s talk about the title, ‘Sharper than Razor Blades’?
This body of work was something I’ve been planning for over a year. In previous works, I have used childhood memories and experiences as a primary source. This exhibition was sparked by a childhood memory of my punk-like hair style that I wore when I was younger and this image is intertwined with the composition and engaging gaze of the strong female characters in my works. Seeing as this was my boldest phase at school, it definitely stuck with me the hardest.
You speak on how digitalization will infiltrate what you believe to be ‘all aspects of contemporary existence’. Is that a foreboding nudge to what could be a dystopian future or simply a reality of the increasing intertwining of digital realms with more poetic and romantic visions of art, subcultures and ‘individuality’?
With the evolution of technology there’s going to be new digital creations, which will eventually create their own subcultures – and in time they will be evolving themselves and creating new identities. That will affect human culture and in a way it’s definitely a nudge towards a dystopian future. Right now, human identity is in a limbo state and tapping into and aggregating many different subcultures. I have also taken influence from the prominent Sci-Fi author Olaf Stapledon, who in his book, Star Maker, reflects on human civilisation in the future.
What would you say is your favourite piece in this exhibition, or at least the one that you feel encapsulates and epitomizes this digitalized age?
My process for each work requires so much time, and the meanings behind them vary, so I find it hard to nail which piece is my favourite, there are definitely features on each work that I become attached to more than others, which I take forward to future works. ‘Jessie’ was made last, so in a way he was my favourite as it was the finale from this body of work for this exhibition. I love the body patchwork and personality he effortlessly portrays. The painting ‘We’re All In This Together’ triggered the works of ‘Satellite Dish’ and ‘Matilda’, and as a combination, I am proud of them. I drew a rough line drawing to start the processes, which lead me to creating a portrait shown on the fabric works ‘Satellite Dish’ and then from a portrait, a standing 6ft sculpture was created, ‘Matilda’. I was selective with materials for these works, as I wanted to show the fabrics from my past that I’ve been in love with including denims, suede’s and cottons - re-using fabrics that have been lying around in my wardrobe, followed by off cuts from fabric stores and asking friends who are in the fashion world for their last season fabrics.
‘We’re All in This Together’ resonates with me – what value does it hold in today’s age?
I took some inspiration from my immediate surroundings in London - a multi-cultural melting pot. In this work I bring together and reveal different characters and subcultures from earlier works combined with newer additions to give a snippet of my thoughts on where the future may be taking us.
How would you say your art intertwines with your how you self- identify? Your previous exhibition at Working Project, A Kid Who Walked the Plank – how does Sharper than Razor Blades reflect your current mental state?
When I started making this body of work for Sharper Than Razor Blades, I had an unusual change in my life. The way I dealt with everything was by locking myself into the studio to purely distract myself, otherwise I would have put it into something else. So I definitely know there’s a lot of emotion in this work. Looking at the artwork and the way I decided to present it, is definitely clear there was raw emotion showing through at the at the early stages of the series. Working with the larger collages was a great feeling as it allowed me to be discrete and expose elements of situations and stories to myself, combining them all to make one larger story, especially shown in ‘Cross Bread’.
‘Find me first, 10 AM’ and ‘Must Stay, Must Go’ evoke a certain reluctance to structure and fixed temporality, an individualist indecisiveness to movement - what do these works mean to you?
These were featuring characters which were revealed in my dreams. When I was staying in New Mexico and Arizona, I had a structured process of immediately sketching these fleeting moments the minute I woke up from dreams. It was a very isolated place. I created certain characters whilst I was there, that I would have preferably loved to see in the environment I was staying in. I wanted to bring them to life by creating 3D sculptures but didn’t have the resources to do so until I got back to London.
Speaking about your show at the Phillip Lim 3.1 store back in 2017, you felt that Painting was at forefront of your practice, finding that “painting is the link to all mediums – expressive and always evolving." Is painting still as important in your work and how does the viewer engage with your varied use of mediums?
I use different textures and mediums to create new environments for the works. A lot of my ideas stem from video recordings I've taken when travelling. From video work, I usually break everything down into collages and paintings. I often find that each viewer has a preferred engagement. I like to see everyone’s reactions to the video work I put out in an exhibition - it usually has an underlying meaning which connects all the mediums together. More than painting, now video work is my way of showing ideas that I am either working on or interested about working on in the future.
Since graduating from Camberwell School of Arts, you’ve already exhibited in Berlin and London, and collaborated with a number of fashion houses. What have you got in store next?
There are some interesting projects being planned. I’m hoping to be showing for the first time in New York around September, and then back in Europe towards the end of 2019.
Sharper than Razor Blades is showing at Working Project, 285 Westbourne Grove, W11 2QA, in London until 31st July.
courtesy ALEXANDER JAMES
words HELENE KLEIH
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