Illuminations – James Bland’s second solo exhibition

A la demande de mon ami James, j’ai écrit ce petit texte pour introduire le catalogue de ses oeuvres exposées à Canterbury du 24 février au 10 mars 2017. Il m’est arrivé de poser pour lui et j’ai le bonheur de figurer sur un des tableaux qui seront à la Lilford Gallery à Canterbury.

I’ve known James Bland and admired his paintings for nearly ten years. Among the many aspects I find compelling, the first is of a strangeness encountered: his paintings always defeat the temptation of a quick reading, leaving space for imagination and wonder. Mysterious figures, sometimes seen from behind, radiate their individuality in unexpected ways: the glow on a particular patch of skin, a jewel adorning an ear, or the dynamic way they interact with their surroundings. In Reclining Figure, Black Wall, for instance, one cannot help but be struck by the way the crisp blouse seems to emerge from the hazy grasp of the wall, while the hands and forearms project definite individuality with the warmth of life.

Strangeness again, but also playfulness, in the way James’s works tend to question or surprise our expectations about perspective, as in Table, Chair and Painting, Midnight Feast or Sphinx. In a similar thought-provoking manner, animals or animal shapes appear, sometimes reminiscent of attributes accompanying ancient gods, as in Aphrodite or Young Man with Striped Birds, sometimes seemingly engaged in an inscrutable dialogue with human figures, as in Acrobat and Cat or in The Lobster, with its atmosphere of interrogation.

Besides the strangeness, there is in James’s work a quality of stillness which sharpens the viewer’s mind and opens the senses to vibrations: darkness silently exudes in colours. Bright and deep, the vibrations of colour and feeling are where we find the life of his paintings, in the light reflected on the often-featured black wall or captured on a stone floor. In textiles and hair, shapes and strokes play with the light in a way that lends abstraction to sensations. Bodies, male and female, become landscapes to explore – how decisively, yet how tenderly the light makes them happen, revealing the potentiality of an area of skin, highlighting a volume!

Is it a surprise to see the motif of the window or the glass panel travelling from one painting to another? Beyond their role as the source from which colours take life, these can be seen as passages to the dimension recalled in memories. In The Children’s Room, the distances pictured seem to be of both time and space, the glass panels in the far door admitting a remembered light; in Akemi with a Little Door, a woman closes her eyes, and the black studio wall opens a golden promise; and one could imagine it is the lighting of the streetlamp which summons to life the urban visions pictured in Rome 2003 and Lisbon 1999.

James’ website : http://www.jamesblandpaintings.com/

Exhibition : http://www.newenglishartclub.co.uk/events/illuminations-james-bland-neac-solo-exhibition-canterbury

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