New York, 5 9th Avenue
The British-born and Los Angeles-based artist Anthony James returns New York with his first solo exhibition in 10 years. Titled Fabulism, the exhibition brings together works from early 2000s with a recent body of work installed around Fort Gansevoort’s distinct architectural interior within a three-story Greek Revival house. Artspeak editor Osman Can Yerebakan interviewed James about the artist’s return to New York.
Osman Can Yerebakan: What was your reaction to the untraditional architecture of Fort Gansevoort as a gallery space? Did you make this work in response to the space?
Anthony James: When I saw the architecture of the space, I though it’s a great place for me to do an exhibition for its industrial look with metal and wood. These are materials I heavily use in my work. This body of work was already complete and when I saw the space, I knew that it’d be a great match. I think exposed brick, for example, adds so much to these works. Sometimes it’s too predictable to show works in white cubes.
OCY: One of the major threads in the exhibition is fabulism. How do you interpret this term within the exhibition concept?
AJ: I am very interested in meditation, especially kundalini yoga. When you meditate, there’s a timeless aspect to it and similarly, sometimes works appear to me like relics from the future. I feel as if I travelled to a future place and brought them back here. I am interested in creating works that look alien to the reality of this moment. I am interested in challenging time. Forth dimension is time, so I believe it’s good to meditate and bring something like alien frequencies back to this world. My works look a little bit extra; they exist in this world, but they are almost otherworldly.
OCY: Materiality is a very important element in your work. The dialogue you create with bronze or wood has been evident throughout your whole trajectory. How do you redefine these materials in this current exhibition?
AJ: Before I left for Germany, I would use a lot polishing and plating techniques to reach perfection. At the moment, I leave the surfaces raw and gestural, although I see that as another way to reach perfection. There is a painterly feeling about it, because I try to enhance the gesture and keep the organic look. Some of the pieces are steel and bronze on top and paint is kept very raw. In other three dimensional pieces, material use is very important , for example I used aluminum on solid block of ebony in one of Untitled sculptures.
OCY: The artists who use steel, approach the medium very precisely and obtain fabricated looks that are almost architectural. Your works are gestural and spontaneous.
AJ: Definitely. All this work is absolutely spontaneous. Even though I am using some architectural techniques to initially make the shape, I am drawing by welding. I am using bronze on top of steel to create a very gestural mark that is almost organic. This is purely instinctual. I try to be very present in the moment and completely move with my instincts. I try to surrender to the idea of control. In my personal life I try to practice surrender and in order to be really present, you just have to let it go. Sometimes a piece sits in the studio for over a year and I come back to it a year later, and sometimes I can finish a piece in a day. I have no problem with putting something down for over a year or just finishing it in a day.
OCY: For a sculpture titled KŌ from 2008, you destroyed a complete Ferrari. How do you compare your earlier practice to the current body of work that seems tranquil and meditative?
AJ: In this exhibition, I have works from 2003 and 2004 next to works that are only a few months old. The work in which I destroyed a Ferrari was a multi-layered piece and one of the layers was destruction of the male ego in the material world. The car was a metaphor for the male ego and the viewer witnessed its destruction. This was 10 years ago, but I knew how I wanted to present myself and how my journey to evolve even back then until this day. On the other hand, now I can put a lot of finesse to a steel piece, but I am certainly not precious about it. If I need to be aggressive with metal, I will do that. For example, in this exhibition, there is a piece titled War Paint for which I used a gun to make marks on the surface. I wanted to penetrate through the surface, so I used bullets and then I painted over them. I wanted to go through the steel as easy as pencil would push through paper. I am not interested in the idea of using guns, but it was a helpful tool in this process.
OCY: Your work makes reference to natural elements such as sun, moon or rocks in terms of their geometric forms. The simplicity of forms in nature is evident in this body of work.
AJ: I have always wanted to make things to celebrate the material. I believe you can reach the essence with simplest forms. Sometimes this may look repetitious, but I work so instinctively that I just make the mark and wait for it to evolve. These marks are all open to interpretation; I don’t have preconceived ideas about them. For example, the piece outside has some paint, bronze and steel, and it has a raw feel almost like the paint has been somewhat weathered. I don’t mind that it’s outside and exposed to rain, sun or dust.