5 Questions to James White
At a time in which images are viewed with ever increasing rapidity and are increasingly replacing language as a means of expression, James White encourages us to decelerate. In this interview he answers five questions on his work in the Marta exhibition “Deceptive Images”.
In your painting you almost perfectly imitate a photographic surface. How do you see the relationship between reality and illusion?
There’s no deliberate attempt to mimic the surface of a photograph. The surfaces of the paintings are relatively smooth simply because I don’t use much paint and because I chose not to work on canvas. I like to change the sheet material I work on, often leaving areas of plywood, acrylic or aluminium exposed depending on an intuitive formal decision I make based on the image. The layering of different materials and the revelation of the construction of the work are very important in terms of its physical presence, its object hood – the viewer’s relationship with the edges being as important as with the painted surface. Illusion and reality are diametrically opposed to one another and inter dependant. Illusion borrows from reality to convince us into believing we see something that we don’t and that’s certainly not my objective.
Your painting is based on photographs that you first took yourself. What do you particularly like about this media transfer?
The function of the process of painting serves to introduce a layer of time to a given moment. It focuses the gaze and hopefully lends the image an intensity that would be missing if it were to remain as a photograph taken in a split-second.
At first glance, many people think your painting is a photograph. How important is this false conclusion to you?
It’s not a consideration at all. I want the paintings to be anti-expressive in terms of their execution and uncomplicated by colour and thus reduced to the bare essentials. I think if a person is standing within three or four meters of a painting there’s no confusion at all. Due to my approach to painting and the nature of the imagery I think my work really suffers in reproduction if you’re not already familiar with it. The obvious problem is the reduction in scale that makes my works look a lot more photographic than they are in reality and of course, there is no impression of the works sculptural quality and the physicality that is so important to it.
Your compositions take up the pictorial theme of the still life that had its golden age in 17th century Dutch painting. Do you have concrete historical models?
I think it’s slightly problematic to refer to my paintings as still life but I can see why people do. Yes, my images contain familiar domestic objects within an intimate spatial setting but a traditional still life is an arrangement of things, a constructed scene where the relationship between objects is strictly choreographed in order to convey a particular message. I’m documenting things as I find them, more in tune with a crime scene photographer or someone taking photographs for an insurance claim. I hope that the over familiar and unremarkable objects in my paintings and the relationships between them, suggest varying external narratives. In a sense the still life is hermetic, air tight, it’s symbolism and meaning predetermined. In contrast my images aim to present more open ended possibilities although there’s definitely something of the memento mori about them. So although I have a huge appreciation of 17th century Dutch still life painting I would say that Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan’s “Evidence” or Stephen Shore’s 70s road trip photographs would represent a more concrete historical model.
The replications of surfaces such as glass or metal and the spectrum of reflections that you create have practically become your trademark. What is it about this that appeals to you?
I’m probably drawn to materials that reflect as they offer up fragments of space outside of, as well as within the paintings. Mirrors and reflection can have a destabilising effect and contribute to the disruption of the psychological space of an image, something I feel is essential in my paintings.