tackling Shakespeare's Ophelia underwater using photography as the final medium

 
 

Back in 2012 I worked on a very complex exhibition project, to include a series of underwater figurative works. I had no idea at the time just how complex the series would be; from the hand fabricated gowns, to the gold halo, to the custom designed water tanks and filtration system; every corner of the project offered polarising and complex problems. The gold halo for example must float in the water mid way from the top and bottom, and to achieve this I have to create a pure gold but hollow (filled with air) design that took several months to complete. The Halo was then secured to the bottom of the tank with an invisible thread with a weight holding it down in the right position.

The exhibition included a stainless steel and glass 500 kilogram hand fabricated vitrine case filled with water with a floating skull with a crown of thorns and silk veil that ebbed in the moving waters within.

For me it was a difficult project as the gallery PA&G ( who are no longer trading.. a long and sad story of celebrities, drugs and false promises behind polished smiles) made all the right noises, but actually left me in the cold as the exhibition drew near to finance and produce the whole project with very little support. During these intensely busy months a few of the original 8*10 inch film plates were incorrectly stored and deemed lost. A few years later to my delight the plates were found safe and well in the studio boxed away in the wrong section. So here are the two selected works from the exhibition including detail images from the whole reel so you can see first hand how this project unfolded whilst securing the reference point in history for me.

underwater artist sculpture figurative

'Turned from heavens door' suicide ophelia dated 2012.
180 x 135cms chromogenic print mounted to 1.5mm aluminium plate with conservation anti-reflect acrylic face.
Edition of II. SOLD OUT.

+ II artist proofs

gallery text from Pertwee Anderson & Gold, 2012.

"Artist Alexander James creates meticulously crafted sculptural scenes; using studio made props, breeding butterflies, growing period specific flowers, hand making the dress and 24 carat gold halo for his Ophelia in 'Witness', 2012 from 'A beautiful announcement of death'; endeavours that imbue a harmonious dialogue with his subject that is ultimately to be encased within a vast underwater landscape. He does this solely for one purpose, that of documenting the realisation on a single 8 * 10 inch analogue camera plate. 

underwater artist sculpture figurative

'Witness' martyred ophelia dated 2012.
180 x 135cms chromogenic print mounted to 1.5mm aluminium plate with conservation anti-reflect acrylic face.
Edition of II. SOLD OUT.
+ II artist proofs

These photographic plates are the only existing record of a far bigger conceptual process that is produced through his complete dedication to a renaissance studio practice. Perhaps it is his effort to exercise a form of control; to relive its tragic baroque beauty; to preserve its memory, from ever being able to fade away. These are diary notations of an artist living his life directly through the medium of his canvases of the most painfully intense kind.

The introduction of water serves its purpose both symbolically and as the functional device through which to achievement the painterly execution of these works; with the interaction of brushes and the artists bare hands on the surface tension of the water, literally painting the subject in light; the results of which are aching with the dramatic radiance of Caravaggio.

Working with analogue camera equipment and without post production, his life long dedication to in-camera purity establishes it's provenance when linked to painstaking preparatory work.

The consistency of his artistic vision is one of the most remarkable things about Alexander James. Having discovered his voice in the late eighties, he has devoted himself to articulating it with the lifelong self-discipline of a medieval monk. In our publicity chasing era, such conviction commands respect. He is an oak tree in the landscape of contemporary art, not some lesser rooted being that bows to wherever the wind of public opinion takes it. Now that water takes centre stage in global politics, we will take note and revere this humble lifes work; far as it is, ahead of its time."

underwater artist sculpture figurative
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