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James Mortimer - Naked in Eden

Words:

Edd Norval
January 16, 2019

In James Mortimer's landscapes, everything seems unbound by law or convention, free and feral, yet at unequivocal peace. Serenity shines through in the lightness of the palette to place his narratives in an Edenic context.

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Half-naked humans roam around next to animals in a landscape that could only be pulled from someone's dream. Although peaceful, that's not to say everything lives side-by-side harmoniously. In one image, a wolf is biting a man whilst a woman crawls around on all fours in the background, feral and raw, like the beast in the fore. The foliage and bright fruits jar with the narrative of violence though and as such, it goes on almost unnoticed.


Beauty can be blinding and in Mortimer's paintings, we can easily overlook what is happening by being too busy with what we are seeing. The dots are so disparate, so thickly dripped in symbolism, that we don't immediately join them. They are stories told on canvas. Painted words, snapshots that capture an ethereal place filled with people like you and I.


To say dreamscape would be a bit too light. As with the Garden of Eden, there is the introduction of chaos to the order. The protagonists have definitely taken a bite of the apple and below the surface, they're living with the consequences. As chaos and order are universally applied concepts of the natural/physical world, they're inescapable. Even in dreams, or our imagination. Mortimer's process incidentally draws on the subconscious, that space between the two, when creating.

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“So it’s my own skewed version of things that I put in the pictures, of how I would fancy the world to be. Obviously the creative process is usually a touch more subconsciously driven than this, but I think that making images along these lines results in art which is at least passionate and wholly individual, and at most which serve as metaphors for the human condition, such as it is.”


Two interesting points here, although not completely divergent, are his mention of how he'd 'fancy the world to be' and then a mention of the 'human condition'. Despite the animals and the landscapes in his works, they're clearly very human driven and taken from a very human perspective. Or as he said, 'subconsciously driven.'


The symbolism and imagery, part Biblical and part barbarism are Jungian in their depth. Mortimer is a particularly open person. His inspiration comes from everywhere and his influences from Picasso to Michelangelo. It's an interesting hybrid that, when directed into his art, comes out as a subtly surrealistic, yet idealistically melancholy imagining.

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An autodidactic painter, he's art-school educated in sculpture and the figurative sculptural form can definitely be seen in the people that populate his works. They are always involved in a scene of sorts: grappling with animals, being bitten by them, or just lounging about as you would in such a beautiful place. They also seem still, as if they're meant to look like they're moving, but they're not. Basically just like a sculpture.


With an upcoming exhibition, Land of Mortimer, showing at London's James Freedman gallery, he will fully broadcast his darkly humorous and deeply immersive works. If you're in that part if the world. It'd be worth taking the time to see. They're large works and well worthy of seeing in the flesh.


Yes, there's definitely more than meets the eye with Mortimer's paintings. Love and light on the surface, yet brutal and slightly dark just below it. He's a young artist (b. 1989) that's got a lot to show for. Having already exhibited beside Paula Rego and Tracey Emin, his is a star that's rising and his world is one that seem still ripe for exploring.

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