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Interview with Ann-Marie James

April 19, 2010

Ann-Marie James
Edel Assanti Gallery 25th March – 25th April

As promised, here is our interview with artist Ann-Marie James, whose work makes up the current exhibition Pareidolia. Beautiful, engaging and at times sinister, the paintings, drawings and sculpture she makes are replete with semi-recognizable imagery that creates its own rhetoric of figures. We wanted to find out more.

Edel Assanti: Is the Edel Assanti show representative of your current practice?
Ann-Marie James: Absolutely – at the moment I’m really interested in the idea of appropriating figurative elements from art historical sources and playing with them to construct new amorphous and contorted forms. Right now I’m working on a painting and some ceramic pieces which follow and further this line of enquiry.

Ann-Marie James, Cumulus (2010)

EA: How did you arrive at the format of the works in ‘Pareidolia’?
A-MJ: I did a lot of picture research at The National Gallery, where I spent hours looking for useful limbs to appropriate from the works in their permanent collection. Whilst there, I became interested in the works on panels of fine hardwoods, and I thought it would be interesting to echo this in my choice of a contemporary, manufactured equivalent – birch-face ply, which turned out to be a wonderful surface to draw on in biro, and onced sized, a great surface for painting.

EA: Was the phenomenon of pareidolia (seeing recognizable objects in random patterns) the inspiration for this series of works as a whole or was it the works of art that provided the shapes of the figures you used?
A-MJ: Pareidolia was the second work in the series that I completed, though I didn’t title it until a week or so after I finished it – I tend not to arrive at the title for a work before I have made it. I would say that the appropriated imagery does seem to inform the way in which I reconfigure it – for example, the putti from Rubens’ works that I used in Pareidolia seemed to lend themselves to a cumulous and buoyant form.

EA: You chose to draw your figures from well-known paintings that have been accepted as masterpieces, rather than from your own studies. Why?
A-MJ: Appropriation seems to be a recurring theme in my practice – an interest that has informed my work since my final year at Central Saint Martins. In the past I have edited found footage from popular cinema, used mathematical formulas and reworked imagery from anatomy textbooks. I like the idea of playing with elements of something that already has its own particular, established reading, and creating something new and different that has a reading of its own. The space between the two is also interesting.

EA: Why these paintings specifically? Could you extract similar forms from less representative figures in 20th century paintings or is it more important to use recognisable bodies?
A-MJ: Right now I am interested in using recognisable figurative forms as they best lend themselves to the types of drawings and sculpture that I am interested in making, but I wouldn’t restrict myself to this arbitrarily – so many things are interesting and there are lots of potential sources of imagery for me to wrestle with – I’m happy to go wherever my practice takes me.

EA: Why do none of the bodies have heads?
A-MJ: I think that there is an ambiguity that I am interested in that is sometimes lost when you include a head – and in particular, a facial expression.

EA: Is there a tension, or irony even, between the suggested sexuality of many of the figures you have drawn from (Olympia, the Rape of Proserpine) and your own repositioning of them as part of an orgy of torsos and limbs?
A-MJ: Definitely, which brings us back to this idea of ambiguity. I love hearing people’s readings of the images, sometimes they see them as orgiastic, sometimes macabre, sometimes both – they’re kind of like a Rorschach test.

Ann-Marie James, Knot Theory (2010)

EA: How do you view the position of figurative painting in contemporary art?
A-MJ: That’s a big question. Personally, I am as excited by figurative painting as I am about any other artform, and I am most interested in artists who do not restrict themselves to one discipline or another, but employ whatever medium is most appropriate for each work. I am excited about making drawings, and paintings, and ceramics, and text based work, all as part of one practice.

EA: Drawings and paintings of similar or the same subjects were included in the exhibition. How do you view the relationship between the two – are the drawings studies or distinct works? Do you ever start with a painting and then draw from that?
A-MJ: Drawing is at the core of my practice, and I definitely view the drawings as distinct works in their own right. Sometimes a pencil drawing will inform a work in biro and oil, and sometimes vice versa.

EA: There was one sculpture in the Edel Assanti show. How would you describe its relationship to the paintings and drawings?
A-MJ: The sculpture was made after I finished Haematoma, a work on board depicting lots of hands pressing into flesh, which were taken from a detail of Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina. Of all the works in the show, Haematoma took the longest, or at least felt like it did, I think I spent a week of very long days just drawing tiny hands (there are even hands underneath the dense dark purple pours). Making the sculpture was an interesting antidote to the process of making the drawing, whilst dealing with similar subject matter.

EA: Would you consider making any further two dimensional works into sculptures?
A-MJ: Yes, in fact I have just begun working on some small scale ceramics, which I am very excited about.

EA: Does ‘Pareidolia’ represent a complete series of works or is it part of an ongoing project?
A-MJ: I do seem to work in series, but I can imagine that the interests and aesthetics that I found through making the works in Pareidolia will remain very exciting to me for some time – the pieces that I am currently working on are certainly a continuation and an evolution of these ideas.

Ann-Marie James will be exhibiting The Butterfly Effect (2010) at Burghley House in Stamford.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 30, 2010 10:47 am

    Lovely work Ann-Marie. I am sorry I missed the show.

    Thank you for introducing the term ‘pareidolia’… It has been an element in my own work in the past, but I hadn’t heard the term!


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