Simon James is a video artist and fine art photographer whose work is shaped by his experiences living in Asia and Europe, along with frequent travel in the United States, Australasia and the Middle East.
Whether working in paint, photography or video, he has often found inspiration in the tension between the man-made environment and the forces of nature.
His work is characterized by emotionally heightened and often abstracted imagery, expressed in photo sequences or immersive video installations that explore the properties of light, space, surface and structure.
The latest photographic projects blur the boundaries between reality and abstraction. They also seek to challenge traditional distinctions between media, and the relative value assigned to them. Through his camera lens the image becomes painterly, reminiscent of watercolors, calligraphy marks or Asian ink paintings. Other photographic works evoke a painted surface or the sheen of a charcoal drawing.
His architectural imagery examines mankind’s desire for order, control and aggressive self-expression in a manufactured landscape. Video installations of rapidly self-renewing city skylines, presented with unnerving soundscapes, seek a heightened sensory experience of the insecurities of urban life.
Storms, volcanic energy, and seismic forces in his work aim to induce both anxiety and awe, as they threaten to overwhelm our sanctuaries of steel and glass. Throughout, light serves as an agent of perceptual change - the means of capturing, reframing and sharing images of our surroundings.
In his fine art photography, James is drawn to the colors, lights and textures of the world’s most vibrant cities - Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, New York, London and Dubai among them. But he also has an eye for quiet, contemplative places in the temples, shrines and back streets of the metropolis, with their accidental aesthetic of weathered paint, the curling smoke from an incense offering, or the pattern of street paving.
In recent years, he has found inspiration in the woods and rivers of the English countryside. Seeking solace in nature during the Covid years, he sought to apply an Asian-inspired sensibility to the seasons and sensations of rural life under the growing threat of climate change.
The video and photo collection ‘Water’ finds quiet beauty, power and peril in the waterfalls, lakes, ponds and hot springs that nourish the earth.
British-born James studied the traditional disciplines of painting and drawing at the Royal Academy and Royal College of Art in London. He exhibited his paintings, prints and photographs extensively in Europe before moving to Tokyo to work as an artist/designer. A stint as a TV graphic designer introduced him to the artistic potential of new media. While working in Singapore he began to explore multimedia forms and now works primarily in video and photography, based in the UK.
In ‘Chasing Light’ he presented abstracted video of the Singapore river set to music for the opening of the city state’s concert and gallery complex. ‘Storm’, a room-sized cube of video projections produced for InfoComm Asia, invited viewers to step inside a tropical rainstorm as it swept across the island, veiling the city behind a cascade of water. In ‘Natural Forces’, projections of electric storms and volcanic pools highlighted our vulnerability to nature’s deadly beauty. In 2007, just as the global financial crisis was unfolding, James explored the symbolism of skyscrapers with the video installation ‘Icon: Cathedrals of Commerce’, using footage of the world’s tallest buildings to reflect on the pursuit of status and economic advantage.
More than 10 years later as storm clouds gathered once again around the banking industry, he revisited the theme of financial totems, reflecting on the pain and uncertainty unleashed in part from those gleaming towers.
The latest projects explore the potential of photography as an artistic medium. The “negative light” collection is a modern twist on the old photography methods that turned dark into light and vice versa, while “inverted light” subverts the colourscape of a composition using photo software as a digital paintbrush. Elsewhere, watercolour paper and mounting techniques are used to celebrate the photographed image as a display object on a par with a painting.
James has held solo shows in Berlin, London, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo, winning several awards for his work including first prize in the 10th Cleveland International Drawing Biennale. His commissions include a video artwork for DHL Express and a multi-screen video installation for Electronic Design China in Shanghai. His photos have been used commercially in advertising and publishing.
He was Course Leader for the BA (Hons) Multimedia Design programme at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, before relocating to the UK, where he freelances in design and photography and works as an independent artist.