Vanitas (portfolio)

Vanitas (portfolio)


Alexander James, Vanitas, 2012
Entire portfolio comprising six Giclée prints on Hahnemühle fine art pearl 285 gsm paper
Presented in custom archival clamshell box finished in bookbinder's black linen with silk insert, acid-free archival dividers
Signed by the artist and annotated with edition number, lower right on recto
Publisher: Distil Ennui Studio®
Each 29.7 × 42 cm (11 7/10 × 16 1/2 in.) Unframed
Edition 12 of 25

Price includes VAT.


In Alexander James series, Vanitas, the artist re-visits the works of the 17th C. Dutch Masters using period props, food, and real insects including butterflies that the artist breeds himself in his studio. Each carefully staged underwater scene is captured in-camera without the use of post-production, either tradition or digital. Working with subtle distortions of light and movement form the water’s own wave energy to create a unique and painterly effect. The subjects appear as if to be floating in a black space that neither interferes nor disrupts the subject matter; the collaboration within this void offering a serene and dreamlike sensation. 

Vanitas had its renaissance in the 17th century, when Dutch artists became focused on the theme of mortality using natural specimens such as flowers cut from the root and started to whither, or pieces of decaying fruit to express momento mori - a reminder of the inevitability of death in all things living. Moreover, ‘precious’ metals, and objects d’art were used to remind the audience of the meaninglessness of superficial existence.

Alexander James further explores these themes through the introduction of water; acting as both nurturer and destroyer, it has the power to cleanse and reinvent, or to drown and disappear. Believing that drawing on water’s transient and destructive nature exposes the fragility of life, and the temporary nature of our existence. 

Ultimately, by playing upon and transforming the genre’s inherent symbiotic themes Alexander Jame’s Vanitas series as a a reflection on life and mortality, questioning its meaning in asociety dominated by materialism. 

The quality and purity of the process are at the core of his work, attempting to engage his art with the most personal of realisations - brutal yet divine.