Alexander James is a London-based artist who mixes painting with digital print, photography as well as video art. Alexander is heavily inspired by cinematography, specifically western films and the Native American culture. He is currently working on a new body of work for an exhibition opening in London in April 2018.
When did you first know you needed to create?
When I was 10 years old at a birthday party, a family friend was running around taking Polaroid’s of everyone, I was persistent in taking the camera off him and doing it myself - that was the last he saw of the camera. From that day, I became obsessed with photography. I would always lose concentration at school as well, drifting off whilst the teacher was speaking (like most 10 year olds) and I was thinking about so many different figures and characters in my head.
Who influenced you on a personal level?
A lot of people have on my journey so far. Matthew Hawkins especially, my old tutor at Camberwell - we got on very well and would have general chats about what we were inspired by on a daily basis; our conversations always lead to new ideas. Whenever I talk to other artists/creatives, conversation is the most powerful tool as my mind starts racing and ideas just bounce off each other.
Which historical artists or creatives influenced you?
There are the obvious ones like Picasso for his figures and Matisse for his colour palette. Robert Rauschenberg’s use of sculptures and then Yayoi Kusama for her use of installations. There’s usually one strong thing I find within an artist that inspires me, so the list goes on.
What are your daily inspirations?
Visiting the Tate and other museums such as the V&A and the British Museum. Watching old western films such as Stagecoach, Fort Apache and other 40’s/50’s films my grandfather introduced me to. In the studio, listening to different genres of music when I create is important. The genre of music determines how my painting is that day; I respond differently when I am painting abstractly. When I paint with I need to drink at least 3 litres of water a day, reason being, so it allows me to take a step back from the painting and see if I’m happy with it. Otherwise I will just keep going and going.
Your work crosses mediums – explain your relationship with video art and how did that outlet develop?
Video art is something I’m always incorporating in my practice. I wanted to combine the two – painting and moving image. Recently I recorded myself painting onto two large canvases. The recording was 48 hours long and I sat through the whole ‘film’ – pausing, rewinding and picking certain aspects of my painting and layering it with footage I felt inspired by. The result was a jolted and controlled aesthetic, which I can then portray in my paintings.
How did you end up working with brands and is this something that excites you?
Collaborations, whether it is with other artists or certain brands, interests me. I thoroughly enjoy sharing my vision and ideas with different people. Exclusivity is key, and I like to work on projects that can increase my ways of thinking. All of my collaborations have been handmade in terms of how many editions there are. I will always keep it that way because at the end of the day I’m an artist, not a fashion designer.
Are you a career artist or do you juggle creating with other work to support your lifestyle?
I’m a career artist, always have been and always will be.
Where have you exhibited? UK / Internationally?
London is my home, so I exhibit there much more frequently. I have also exhibited in LA, Berlin, New York and soon to exhibit in Paris and Mexico. I always get excited of the thought that I am bringing my work and showing it to people all around the world.
Where would you like to exhibit?
I would love to showcase my work in Japan, China and Argentina. I also would love to have a solo show in New York when the time is right.
Do you feel artists need galleries to make them successful?
No, not at all. I believe galleries help you connect to people and facilitates impeccable presentation of your work. If you’re good at networking and have confidence in what you do, there’s no reason you can't do it by yourself. I am currently not exhibiting at a gallery, but I will when the time is right. My main priority is staying focused and creating what I’m inspired by. I will continue meeting the right people and come across many different ideas, thoughts and visions.
You say Instagram is your gallery – how long have you developed this as your platform for exhibiting and do you think there is longevity in that?
It’s an incredible platform and a great way to expose yourself and show what you’re working on. If I create a piece of work and want to share it instantly – it allows me to do that. Using Instagram - I am accessible and able to connect with more people around the world. When I work on something new, I avoid looking on Instagram, until the project is complete. There is longevity in using Instagram; I can always tell my story, my inspirations, disclose my creative processes any time I wish. It's an amazing platform that will just continue to grow.
Is this a platform you’d encourage other artists to embrace instead of formal gallery spaces?
I would never tell them to do one without the other; I think they’re both important. They both complement each other. If you have a big opening and want to reach out to the right people, Instagram allows you connect to people straight away. From Instagram, I can give 'teasers' of my work - I want to build up an excitement and I want people to want to come and see my whole collection. I think it’s still important to view the entirety of the works in person, there’s only so much detail you can see on a screen.
What are you working on right now and what is its story?
I’m working on a series of paintings titled ‘Cloud 9’, which explore the deconstruction of a portrait in an abstractive form, picking apart the features you would normally see on a portrait and replacing it abstractive shapes and colours. This will be at my next exhibition later on in the year. My other project is collaboration with artist Luke Flanagan, titled 'The District'.
Explain your works ‘District’ that are being shown at Carousel-Next Door this April – what’s the inspiration and creative process behind them?
Having spent several years travelling back and forth between New York and London, Luke and I turn our focus from the specific faces that make the city, to the interweaving districts – with each borough serving as a form of protagonist. The result is a series of works that seamlessly blend street photography with expertly layered painterly details. We start with the photograph—presenting it as found—whereby the subject is totally unaware of the camera – and the photograph is then manipulated and subjected to layers of revision, conjured from our detailed recollection of the time of its capture. With the most intangible memories delicately recreated through a variety of mediums including painting, mark making and the luminous use of material texture – the photographs trigger a multi- sensory experience that can only be felt, not described, of everything that falls outside of the frame.
What’s next for you?
I am heading to Mexico soon to work on exciting sculptures for the World Cup in Russia. I want to continue working on my series of 'Cloud 9' paintings to exhibit later in the year in Paris and London. Last month I visited LA, Arizona and New Mexico and filmed a video for a certain project - I am now currently producing, editing and bringing it all together, so check out my website or @alexanderjames on Instagram in a month or so...