Claerwen James at Flowers Gallery
Claerwen James and the West End’s Flowers Gallery have supported each other since the British artist’s first exhibition in 2004, and they complement each others’ potent simplicity. Daughter of famed novelist Clive James and scholar Prue Shaw, James’ creative talent came as no surprise – but perhaps at a cost. Electing a painting career after finishing a zoology degree, the internal angst, fear, frustration and pressure one finds in early life are paramount in her work.
The tone of the 12-piece exhibition is instantly felt and understood upon entering the gallery: we are met by a portrait of a young girl wearing a yellow tribal themed tunic, and pondering what appears to be a drinking straw with a melancholy curiosity. All the paintings feature young girls, stoic and stony, bereft of any discernible expression, wearing simple rustic dresses adorned with ornate brocade designs. The dress is the key colour and aesthetic of each painting, as the portraits are muted in their lack of detail, giving a quasi-cartoon feel. Broad brush-strokes in greys, blacks and whites create dynamic shadows on the subjects’ hair and tunnelling eye-sockets.
The artist has utilized the gallery to enhance the theme further by placing a particularly anaemic image behind glass, encouraging ideas of distance and emotional incarceration. A set of three monotype sketches on crudely painted block-colour backgrounds is especially distant, and acts more as a precursor to the bolder, finished paintings – an odd inclusion.
Claerwen takes inspiration from photographs, which is why the conscious decision to remove all sign of light from the large, doll-like eyes of her muses is significant to the semantics of her work, providing a refreshing alternative to the over-pressed assumptions of childhood bliss and naivety.
The only full length painting is of a brunette girl. The eerily placid facial composition juxtaposed with the brightness of her floral dress and background cement the feeling of the piece, making it a definite highlight.
This is an exhibit of strange beauty: memorable, haunting and unique.
Claerwen James is at Flowers Gallery until 16th March 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.