Alexander James’s new project, ‘Distil Ennui’, is constructed on an effect that he has already tried — photographing an object submerged in water. Previously, in several works in the ‘Underwater’ series, to achieve a special visual volume, the artist resorted to imposing a transparent, light layer of paint directly onto the surface of the water, in order to achieve a distinct “painterly” effect. This time, recalling the renowned canvas by John Everett Millais, ‘Ophelia’, and the somewhat less renowned ‘Le Jeune Martyr’ by Paul Delaroche, James has created a series of works in which the figures of young, men and women, and even children are photographed floating freely in a stratum of water that is sometimes painted with a pigment on the surface. The layer of water functions in each work as a special filter, transforming everything. The faces are covered over in ripples, they blur, sometimes they can’t be made out at all. The fabric of bright colours, in which the bodies of the individuals are wrapped, or the clothing of an indeterminate-romantic style in which they are dressed, under the water is made up of incredibly intricate, but always smooth, as in a slow-motion film, streaming folds and wrinkles. The continual and reciprocal shifting of lighted and shadowed sections across the faces and bodies of the models, defined by the natural movement of underwater flows and eddies that can’t be made out by the naked eye, give the images a mysterious and enigmatic but genuinely painterly character that is stressed by the black, neutral background against which each figure stands out so effectively. Each figure is enclosed within themselves, forming their own individual space located on a conditional and unstable border between the real world and a fantastical vision, between reality and a dream.
Alexander James Hamilton talks of his deeply felt connection to Russia and particularly the cultural period between 1700-1850. When he moved to Moscow he visited the Tretyakov gallery and saw the painting that served as inspiration for this series: Princess Tarakanova by Konstantin Flavistky. Flavitsky adhered to classical traditions, the work is based on a legend from the Russian history according to which Princess Tarakanova, who said she was the daughter of Empress Elizabeth and Alexei Razumovksy and laid claim to the Russian throne in Catherine the Great's reign, died in Peter and Paul Fortress during the flood of 1777.
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