Dana James: From Dreams of Pools, To Caves of Jewels by Danielle Burnham
Have you ever considered the evolution of a memory, how things as we recall them transform over time? In her last show, Sometimes Seen Dreams, displayed at the Lodge Gallery last October, emerging artist Dana James gave a visual definition to this process, exploring what she describes as a “tension” between our initial impression of places and things, and how we remember them now.
In her piece To Be or Not to Be (A Little More Human) James brings this tension to the surface. “I hope to seize a space in time that is as much absent as it is present,” she says, referencing a specific technique wherein she simultaneously bleeds water in from the back of the canvas, while adding pigment to the front.
“I hope to seize a space in time that is as much absent as it is present."
To Be or Not to Be (A Little More Human). Ink, oil, leather on canvas, 50"x40", 2017.
How does the artist herself remember things? In works like Fortune Teller, James builds the impression of something otherworldly around a piece of classic imagery from Americana. The piece stirs the memory of what was once “a vast, frightening landscape as a child”, capturing its evolution through time into an average backyard swimming pool, or “any destination within a simple, perfunctory life”.
Fortune Teller. Ink, dye, oil, pigment on canvas, 48"x48", 2017.
Much of the work that was on display in Sometimes Seen Dreams last year echoes this same theme. James’ abstract depictions of water evoke the sensation of memory and the passage of time, while reminding us that we are but small creatures, “incessantly creating and shedding beautiful accounts of the earth and its elements”.
To capture the “purity” of the water imagery, James also uses water as her primary medium. In a process she describes as a “compromise between the artist and the medium”, she capitalizes on the natural accidents that occur by pouring the water, and permitting it – in all of its “autonomy” – to determine the outcome.
In her latest body of work, James builds upon the themes explored in Sometimes Seen Dreams. The narrative element is stronger than it was previously, as in pieces like The Gap, in which she revisits the swimming pool imagery. Though this piece is still largely abstract, the representational element is more recognizable.
Are they serene or are they dangerous? Are they just pretty or are they cerebral? Are they feminine or are they masculine?
The Gap. Oil, encaustic, pencil on panel, 12"x12" panels, 2018.
James has also introduced new materials into her latest work, including Indian and Japanese paper. In her use of these materials we perceive a new theme – the idea of contrast. In these newer works, heavy contrasts inform the abstract and narrative elements, weaving in matte vs. iridescent; dark vs. bright; thick vs. thin; flow vs. geometric; and encaustic vs. pastel.
In fact, James’ newer works are largely driven by this notion of contrast. Self-described as a “very contradictory person” in many ways, she is drawn to the idea that “nothing is one way”, nor can anything be completely defined. Within a single piece lives images that provoke questions, like Are they serene or are they dangerous? Are they just pretty or are they cerebral? Are they feminine or are they masculine?
Jewel in a Cave II. Mixed media on panel, 14"x22" diptych, 2018; Ghost. Mixed media on wood, 30"x30", 2018.
James’ newest piece, Jewel in a Cave, explores the idea of contrast on a larger scale. This piece is built as a series of five panels, each of which houses a discrete image – within which lives seemingly infinite layers of contrasting textures, colors, and shapes. Each panel is strategically placed in relation to the others, such that the juxtaposition serves to “accentuate contradictions” between and among the images.
Jewel in a Cave. Mixed media on panel, 14"x55", 5-panel piece, 2018.
James continues to build upon many of the themes that have already earned her renown within the art scenes of Brooklyn and Manhattan – and beyond – and it will be interesting to see what she does over the next few months.
James’ next show is a two-person exhibition this Spring at the Silence Is Accurate Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa. In the Fall you can view her new work at her next solo show, to be held at David & Schweitzer Contemporary, 56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, NY.
Follow the artist on Instagram: @mizdanajames
by DANIELLE BURNHAM