“No-one can resist Nature, in this digital world it opens-up a different dimension that people reconnect and empathise with.”
In the contemporary art world pressure to conform is great due to the sheer density of competitors. Commercialism often curtails the artistic propensity to take risks, artists need expressive freedom to explore aspects of their work that dealers, curators and critics can stifle. ‘The Garden Path” by London-based artist James Seow, is a breath of fresh air, an imaginative work of art experienced through an installation piece of iridescent hummingbirds darting amongst a forest kaleidoscope of orchids that breathes in front of the viewer.
James has exhibited internationally and works across a range of media including print, photography, sculpture and installation. As a self-stated Malaysian-British hybrid, who witnessed mass deforestation with the urban transformation of Malaysia in the 1990’s, the theme of Nature’s relationship with urban life is prevalent in James’s work. An artists’ ultimate responsibility is creation, which requires tremendous discipline to validate their art, “The Royal College of Art where I studied Printmaking, challenged me to understand myself as an artist, to positively identify and reconnect with my culture, and contemplate visual aesthetics and context.”
“The Garden Path” blurs the boundaries of fine art and decorative art, part of a series of installation art started in 2014, the project is significant in James’s development not only as an artist but as a personal backlash against societal stereotypes. “Commercial printing has devalued printmaking as a contemporary art form. I want to push the understanding of printmaking as an artistic practice, printmaking should be appreciated as an emotionally immersive experience whereby different techniques can change perception. Many printmakers fail to consider the installation environment as a creative space in which viewers can have a sensory bodily experience.”
In James’s art studio, you are absorbed inside an illuminated world of Nature reminiscent of an ebony lacquer painting, “no-one can resist Nature, in this digital world it opens-up a different dimension that people reconnect and empathise with.” Chaotic energy is captured in the frantic wingbeats of hummingbirds that belie the first-glance serenity of the scene, the luminosity of the light in the foreground is akin to a torch beam shining into a tangle of trees before being swallowed by a pitch black forest. The depth of lighting is cinematographic, are the hummingbirds fleeing in panic startled by the light? “I wanted to capture the emotion of the birds, and the scatter of things. I drew influence from C14th Flemish artist Heironymus Bosch, the minutiae detail in his art, the closer you observe, the more elements there are to discover.”
Even chaos in “The Garden Path” is a controlled manner of artistic production, artists create work to explore what they don’t know. Lurking beneath the depth of layers is a fundamental question James is trying to answer through the artwork, there is a darker symbolic undertone of Memento Mori ("remember that you will die"), the medieval reflection of mortality. The fusion between life and death is subconsciously entwined with the visual aesthetic quality inspired by the classical Chinese painting, “100 Birds”, in feng shui, during times of adversity birds are powerful symbols of new opportunities. In relationship to “The Garden Path”, to the world outside the studio, to Nature, it’s considering the duality of the vanity of human life and transience of earthly goods and pursuits.
This is an emotionally engaging experience for artist and viewer, even in the preparatory work James shaped the parameters of working with the print medium. He studied taxidermy collections of hummingbirds at the Natural History Museum and Horniman Museum and Gardens in London “as a still life to remember death.” Skulls, dead animals and decaying flowers are recurring motifs in Memento Mori art, “I wanted to capture the fluttering wings of the hummingbirds and convey life’s duality in the orchids’ vibrancy. I’m the architect of positive and negative space, confined within the boundaries of creation in The Garden Path.”
The sensory experience has been subconsciously driven by a contemplative experience James had in his youth, swathed by darkness alone in a jungle. “In the absence of light, I was directionless, I had to overcome the initial fear of an animal or insect attack, but after a while I was comforted by the darkness and the luminous quality of the ground. The relationship of colour is a galaxy of randomness in the dark.” Whilst an artist has to learn the business of art as an institutional practice “The Garden Path” defies commercial subjugation by being deeply profound, visually aesthetic and a beautiful indulgence to inhale.
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