Where's the frame
February 11, 2022 7:09 AM
British-born artist Alexander James likes to experiment with different kinds of materials and media. Using painting, sculpture, video, photography and installations as his medium, he makes sure that the chosen medium makes sense for that specific body of work. To us, his work has a unique sense of vulnerability and in this ‘in conversation with’ edition, we find out why. We also talk about his use of a wide range of media as an artist, discuss his studies, how he get inspired during the pandemic, as well as his intriguing family history.
You have worked on various media such as sculptures, paintings, installations and videos. Are there any others you want to explore?
Absolutely. I have lots of ideas but also most importantly want to make sure the medium makes sense to the body of work I'm creating. I've recently been exploring clay and experimenting with different typed of polyfiller on canvas.
If you could pick out a favourite of the media you have explored, what would it be?
Painting is always at the forefront of my practice but I also very much enjoy collaging by using an array of materials and taking photographs from videos I've made.
You studied illustration during your time studying at Camberwall College of Art. If such a thing like a time-travel machine existed, would you go back in time to change your course of study so you would have explored these media since the beginning?
This is a great question and something I ask myself regularly. I've come to realise that it makes a lot of sense that I studied illustration. The course was fast pace in terms of briefs but we also were open to experiment. I think there are lots of positive things I gained from not taking a traditional fine art course but maybe also things I missed out on. I wouldn't change my course if I could go back, because I learnt how to animate (to a beginners level) and work across other technically tricky platforms which I'm not sure other courses following the traditional route would have taught me.
Let’s talk about your latest exhibition, what inspired you to create ‘Keep It In The Family’?
This exhibition was focusing on memories and identity, combining together recordings, voice notes, short writings and sketches I made during my 6-month stay in Cape Town. All of this together created the exhibition.
I fell infatuated with the inner city of Cape Town, deconstructing the chaos, markets and individual characters I met in the surrounding area of where the studio and gallery were located.
In your most recent exhibition ‘Keep It In The Family’, you displayed a ‘portrait video’ which included old photographs passed down to you from your grandparents. Were there any photographs about your family that you found interesting when looking at the photograph? Can you share it with us?
Lots of captivating memories were discovered. The most exciting being a photograph of 3 brothers, one of them being my great grandfather. They all stood outside of their hair saloon in Camberwell during WW2. It's a beautiful story about how it became an institution for everyone in the area and even those from a distance. It attracted all types of special characters ranging from artists, musicians, actors and even the local gangsters would come in for a regular trim. Henry (my great grandfather) and his 2 older brothers moved to London during WW2 escaping from Russia. On the same road, most other stores and houses got bombed except for a tailor and the saloon my great grandfather owned. Something bigger was always watching over Henry's, my grandfather said. The saloon was called 'Henry's'. I find it funny how I only recently found this out. The research from this has been an integral part of my latest artworks.
In your interview with Vogue, you stated that childhood memories became a major source of coming up with ideas. Can you tell us your most memorable childhood moment?
There are many stories but I think the most valuable times that made an impact were all the different schools I went to. I ended up moving across so many schools that it was an experiment in itself. Apart from school the times spent with my grandfather was a big part of my childhood, spending every weekend watching old westerns and sketching flower pots.
How does an artist like you keep being inspired especially during this pandemic? What motivates you?
Trying to stay on top of everything is the most important, otherwise carrying on and producing work. Looking after yourself and those around you.
What has been your proudest moment?
Being able to get up everyday and work in the studio.
What is your scariest experience?
Not being able to get up everyday and work in the studio.
His work is on view as part of ‘Love is the Devil Studies after Francis Bacon’ until 26 February 2022 at Marlborough Gallery London
Portrait of the artist taken by Hadassi (IG @hadassi__)
All artwork photos courtesy of the THEFOURTH.
where's the frame - ‘in conversation with’ is a weekly series featuring emerging vanguard artists. Stay tuned for more interviews, published every week.