First off, the Parasol Unit is a fantastic space. Loads of good distance and a great floor (artwork in its own right, upstairs at least). But of course that’s not the point, which is that James’s paintings are disconcertingly wonderful.
You don’t quite know what you’re looking at when you first come in if, like me, you haven’t read up on it beforehand. There doesn’t seem much to link up these fairly small paintings, unassertive, put up in no particular chronological order – 1980’s shoved up alongside a work from 2000 and something; a landscape with recognisable trees and a bridge near an oblong abstract in yellows; a few strands of hair, bits of chopped out canvas showing some gallery wall and an interesting shadow; a surface made out of something that looks like a sort of silky plastic; a model house stuck in the side of a frame, some old glue raising the surface under some bits of paint; strips or sections of canvas stuck on and painted over; occasional luscious painterly effects in dull, drab colours. No lovely oil paint, no distractingly obvious visual beauties of colour or shape. In short, nothing to write home about.
Except, of course, that they are something to write home about. Fairly loudly. I wanted to take a lot of them away with me. Because they’re things that would be treasures, that would catch you out in an unsuspected corner and surprise and distract you before you knew exactly what was happening. Things that didn’t shout or brag ‘look at me, oh, look at me, I’m so this or that or the other’, paintings that are themselves, not an advertisement for the artist, just a record of some flat or fairly flat two dimensional sort of thing which had taken place in the artist’s presence.