Mark James A Syncopated Collection Of New Works – James Payne

Mark James, Chris Contini Contemporary

Mark James is a British filmmaker known for his 1993 documentary FREEZE, the first TV documentary made about that iconic show, as well as his film on Carle Andre, “Upholding the Bricks”, and other films about artists, architects and musicians.

He studied at Goldsmith’s around the same time as Damien Hirst and all the other YBAs and worked as a studio assistant to artist Sir Michael Craig-Martin for several years.

He is also an artist in his own right and is moving his focus away from his films about other artists’ work and returning to creating his own art, with his first solo show at the new Cris Contini gallery in Notting Hill.

His various art documentaries are about discovering how an artist works, their inspirations, and an examination of their process, but in James’ paintings, the process is the art, and his use of abstraction means everything is focused on that process.

Mark James Cris Contini Contemporary
Mark James, Come Fly With Me 2024

His paintings are based on random photos he takes in neutral black and white (so he doesn’t get influenced by colour just yet), of architectural details, organic and geometric shapes, and just about anything that catches his eye. These photographic prints are his artist sketchbook, where ideas and forms start to take shape. Then he bases large-scale drawings on those photos, perhaps highlighting just a simple detail like the curve of a building or the way light forms a shadow – and then it’s at this point he starts to apply colour onto canvas.

He listens to swing Jazz as he works, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and the like, and he works spontaneously and intuitively when applying paint to canvas, often in response to music (his works are named after jazz pieces), which is the obvious analogy here. He compares his process to composers starting with a single note or chord that then becomes the motif of the song as it develops, and his work really does have that sense of fluidity, musicality and rhythm, and of course, that improvisational nature we hear, in jazz music in particular.

In the same way as those composers, he says, he starts with a single colour and allows the process to develop spontaneously and organically, as one colour creates a reaction with another in a form of controlled spontaneity, using shapes, movement, colours, and lines, instead of chords, notes and rhythms, to create the “image.” Although James uses flat blocks of colours, the overlapping of shapes and juxtaposition of colour gives the works a nice three-dimensionality.

Mark James, “New Paintings” features 22 new paintings and two limited-edition prints. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an introduction by Sir Michael Craig-Martin.

In this miserable excuse for a British summer get down to Notting Hill gate and brighten up your day with a joyous riot of optimism, of colour and movement, and an uplifting ode to his love of music.

Mark James exhibition Vivid is showing at Cris Contini Contemporary, 1 Lonsdale Road, London W11 2BY  14 June – 13 July 2024

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Lead photo @malcolmmodele