Field Notes: James Nares
by Betsy Wills
Artist James Nares, originally from London and now residing in NYC, is internationally known for his films, photography, and paintings. In all of these media, he focuses on themes of movement, rhythm, and repetition.
The minimalist, single-stroke paintings featured here are examples of Nares’ concept of recording the moment of the work’s creation. To do so, he traces the passage of time and the movement of the paint-filled brush as it crosses the canvas. We spoke to Nares about his iconic paintings and learned a little about the man behind the art, the brushes, the paint, and his trip to Nashville.
How did your single-brushstroke concept originate?
It originated by slowly stripping away everything else that was less interesting to me. That’s what I was left with—it seemed to me that there was enough going on within a single brushstroke to tell a story.
Is the work pre-planned or are you working in the moment?
It’s hopefully a perfect mix of both. I’m riding a knife’s edge between design and spontaneity, and I have to have the best of both in order to make a brushstroke.
What are the physical challenges of being suspended?
That’s gotten a lot of play, but it’s actually quite rare that I make a painting suspended. I usually paint at a large table, standing on the ground. When I do suspend myself, my feet are locked into a kind of extended ladder, and I throw my body horizontally while I make the brushstroke. So I’m actually only suspended horizontal for about four or five seconds at most.
Your work seems to have a natural rhythm to it.
There’s definitely a rhythm to the paintings. Rhythm is a strong element, which is a musical connection for me—a hint of music in the paintings.
What about your color choices?
Well, they’re not symbolic. I just try to think of them as colors. Blue is blue. Sometimes if a painting isn’t working I’ll change the color in order to move it along.
You make your own brushes . . .
I do! I have to make them because nobody makes brushes like I need. Sometimes I’ll make them by taking ordinary household brushes and chopping them up and then gluing them back together in a different configuration.
Do the brushes provide you with certain textures?
Yes. Each brush has a different character. It’s a combination of the snap of the bristle, how “snappy” it is or soft, how long it is, how thick it is, and how much paint it will hold. All those things vary from one brush to another.
A living artist you most admire?
There are so many great artists, but I would say, of my contemporaries, my favorite painter is Christopher Wall.
Thoughts on Nashville?
I love Nashville. I’ve been there a couple of times. We were driving a big Cadillac across country, and we stopped off in Nashville on the first part of our journey. I remember checking into a hotel, and there was music coming from every room. There was music everywhere. It was great.
James Nares was born in London in 1953, and he now lives in New York City. The British painter, photographer, and filmmaker has exhibited his work in group shows and solo exhibitions around the world. His art is part of numerous public and private collections, including the Whitney Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and MoMA. He is represented by Paul Kasmin Gallery.
Betsy Wills admits that she is blissfully ignorant when it comes to art curation and selection. She is, however, an avid art lover and collector and maintains the popular art blog artstormer.com. Wills is proud of the fact that her art does not match her sofa.