Children's author and illustrator Tobhy Riddle & photographer Camille Walsh have put together an article for the summer 2014 edition of 'Slow magazine' which includes a piece on my artwork and practice. The title of the mag is apt, not for any reference to my intelligence (ha ha), but for what I hope to achieve in my work and, the obvious time it takes to meticulously put together these assemblages. Its well understood how fast life seems to have become with our click-culture, rapid-fire, info-overload, brain-exploding pace. My antidote to skimming life on the surface is to 'slow down' which incorporates a meditation practice before beginning work, giving time also to reflect on the thoughts that occupy my headspace. Without this hiatus of 'no-mind', I'd probably be throwing tubs of paint at canvas in a frenzied attack of frustration! Splatter paintings have their place, but not in my studio!
'James Blackwell's meticulous works are literally a product of the Blue Mountains. "My anchor is the landscape in which I live", he says. And over his back fence are hundreds of thousands of hectares of National Park. For James, it must be like the largest art supplies store in the world.
Seeking materials for his work he sets off on bush walks not knowing what he will discover. He calls these walks "Meditative endeavours". They are about mindfully looking at the detail and minutiae of the bush until he sees them in knew ways. "Art school taught me to see", he says. So seeds, nuts, flowers, leaves, soils, - maybe even cicada wings can all become media in his work.
A work might take a week, it might take a month. They are painstakingly constructed out of hundreds of tiny elements. "I'm not actually that patient. Its the process of making the art which slows me down and calms me". Its art making as antidote to the anxiety-producing chaos and speed of present-day life.
The artworks might evoke a planned, even architectural quality, but there are no plans. The composition process is actually an organic one where James plays with the materials until they "suggest" an arrangement. "A process", to quote architecture theorist Christopher Alexander, "which builds order out of nothing".
In addition to a naturally narrow palette, a consistent feature of these artworks is repetition through subtly unique replications. The resulting patterns attain a peaceful rhythm that touches on the sublime. And there's the beauty. These works silently echo the replicating natural world. Fittingly, James describes his work as "a salute to nature".
- Tobhy Riddle