Exhibition: James Brown’s flamboyant prints at the Stour Space
James Brown launched his new career path in 2007 after working for a decade in the fashion industry, producing designs for brands such as Levis, Louis Vuitton and Hope & Glory menswear. Having been trained in textile and surface print design, he unifies his commercial experience and interests in traditional workshop practices to produce images with an amiable, nostalgic, retro touch.
The Stour Space, which hosts the display, is an organisation which focuses on enhancing opportunities in creative industries by offering exhibition, performance and studio spaces. Based in Hackney Wick, which was recently given an injection of money from the Lottery Funding for regeneration, is oriented towards local communities and emerging artists. But this remote area has recently turned from “a mudpatch in the middle of nowhere”, as it was referred to in a 1976 episode of Dr Who, to a focus point of the whole world, all because of the Games. Actually, from windows in the Stour Space you can see not only the quaint River Lea, but also the towering Olympic stadium above it.
There is a friction between the micro-scale life of inhabitants and the macro-scale Olympic fuss. Hackney Wick’s simultaneous remoteness and centrality creates a tension which was grasped and turned by Brown into the image Wick (2011). The printmaker’s keen interest in local business may be seen in many of his works as, for example, in the screen print Gardner’s (2012), celebrating the historic, 140-year-old Spitalfields institution, Gardners Market Sundriesmen.
Generally, Brown’s works have their beginnings in the surrounding reality. Then, the inspirations are turned into the graphical signs. He has a deep interest in the visual imaginaries of pop culture. The phrase “This is where the magic happens” was heard by him on MTV and transformed into an elaborated, complex composition created around the written word. Some of his patterns are simplified, as the images of animals, characterised by simple, distinctive planes of colour. Others are compound and diverse like the print Behold! (2011) which was commissioned by The Independent as an unusual piece of memorabilia for the Royal wedding. Among his other clients are publishing houses, magazines and newspapers, and advertising and design agencies such as Faber and Faber, GQ, Random House, The Guardian and The Poetry Society. His portfolio also contains two elegant and visually splendid books for babies (published in 2011 by Walker Books) and a screen print for V&A for the Cherry on the Cake collection.
Brown’s retro prints are deeply and evidently rooted in his commercial practice. But he also has interest in the traditional technical process of making prints, which can be clearly seen in Arrow (2008). Linocuts, which were made from the one piece of lino, were turned by 180° to produce twisted, multiplied images.
Asked about his works, he concluded that he simply likes making pretty images. And these works are indeed pretty. Their careful arrangements, faded colours and flamboyant fonts sum up into a charming old-fashioned stylistic, which is deeply and evidently rooted in the trade. In fact, it is hard to approach them not bearing in mind their pragmatic goals and Brown’s indication to aestheticise the surrounding reality.
An Exhibition of Prints by James Brown is presented at the Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, from 4th May until 4th June.