Catalogue essay by Joe Rollo
I admire almost all of James Clayden’s endeavours but it is his painting that draws me to his work time and again. In the twenty or so years I’ve known him and across several exhibitions, you can reach into his psyche through his paintings. Working almost exclusively in the difficult and unforgiving medium of enamels, though of late he has also been working in oils, his range of emotions are there for all to see, splashed across his large canvases: dark and brooding, light and bright; often informed by his travels. I especially like James’s abstracted takes on works by Rembrandt, Velazquez, Corot, Cezanne, Seurat, Sargent and Picasso of 2006 and a monumental triptych of 2010, based on an orange-painted room and sculptural pieces he saw and photographed at the Pinacoteca di Brera on a visit to Milan some years back.
The large canvases and small works in this exhibition have been inspired by the semi industrial surroundings of his neighbourhood in the inner city and a seminal trip made to Japan last year. Bridge, car park, tunnel, station, laneway, water works: industrial landscapes is what they are, all struck with confidence and liveliness. Gone are the paint drips of earlier works, painted on easels and then laid flat to stop the enamel paints from running down the face of each work. Each painting here has been worked up slowly in layers. Greens, ochres, browns, yellow, russet, orange and black, of course, lend a liveliness not often seen in past works.
Junction, a conversion of two streets in Japan, is the most colourful and lively. Here you can sense the dynamism of the street, of lights and traffic and advertising signs. If you’ve been to Japan, you will know exactly what I mean.
Gardens, a monumental two-panel painting, 2400 x 2400, is the largest work in the exhibition and the most striking. It is an impression of a garden visited during James’s brief sojourn in Japan. Struck in soft oranges and russet browns, it has the quality of walking into a fog-bound forest of Japanese maples, backlit by the sun struggling to break through.
The exhibition includes three whimsical bronze sculptures of crumpled cardboard boxes, First Angel, Second Angel and Third Angel. These are tough pieces. You’ll either love them or hate them but, like all of James’s art, they take no prisoners.
Joe Rollo is an architecture writer and editor. He is the founder and editor of C + A, an international magazine of concrete architecture published in Melbourne. He has reviewd architecture in The Age fro more than 20 years, and has written widely for other Australian and international publications. Joe is the author of three books of architecture: Contemporary Melbourne Architecture (1999), a collection of writings from The Age; Concrete Poetry – Concrete Architecture in Australia (2004); and Beautiful Ugly, The Architectural Photography of John Gollings (2011)