A captivating look, a colourful smile, a random object humanised. The work by British artist James Rielly is striking, not necessarily because of its visual richness, or the beauty of its colours and fine materials, but because of the conceptual ideas one is face upon when looking at his oeuvre.
To call Rielly a British watercolour artist is to simply underestimate the power of his art. Rielly’s artworks have been exhibited in so many recognised museums and institutions around the globe that he should already be a local in Brazil, France, Spain, the USA and even South Korea.
Currently based in Paris, the artist works mostly with watercolours on paper to achieve a certain look of pureness, a soft coloured palette where he can convey an imaginary that reminds us of our childhood, silly moments or thoughts portrayed forever with his thoughtful strokes.
However, behind the inherent softness of the artist’s paintings, lies a perfect marriage of form and concept. A concept sometimes uncomfortable, upset-tiling, that moves something inside us us, that triggers ideas deep down hidden in our psique.
A kid covering his face with a paper bag, another one looking how coloured dots appear on his chest, colourful lines coming out of brown eyes, surreal ideas that make us meditate about the human condition, about the fears we face as individuals, fears so big and strong that become universal.
Almost like an allegory, Rielly treats very delicate and, sometimes even dark subjects, through the image of kids, why? maybe to soften up the concept? to don’t be so aggressive and to present us powerful ideas that will not impact us in such a way that we decide to look away, but that invite us to think about the human condition in a friendly environment where we might feel safe.
We are excited to welcome you to “Love flows from your eyes”, James Rielly’s solo presentation at our gallery, a show carefully curated of nine original watercolour works in a colourful palette that invites us to meditate over love and the many meanings it had in our childhood, and it has now in our lives. Continue scrolling down to read a brief interview with the artist, who will share with us his particular vision of life and art.
Tell us a bit about you, how was your process into becoming an artist?
I grew up in North Wales, famous for its poetry and music, but no visual art.
But I was lucky as there was quite a good library near by and my Grandfather lived in London. There was one book I would get out all the time and it showed lots of
photos of artists in their studios, all in black and white from the 1950’s. I thought that’s how I want to be, surround by art materials in a suit with a big beard.
Also from an early age I would stay with my Grandfather in London and spend all my time in the National Gallery.
Which artist inspired you when you started and which artists inspire you now?
I have always loved and collected images, when I was young it would be from comics, magazines, news papers.
I would have books full of cut out images, and I do the same now. I am constantly looking for images that I might use in some way for a painting.
How would you define your work?
When I started trying to be an artist, I felt I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it. Now I have no fixed idea and most of the time I can not explain in a easy way
what I am doing. I feel as if I have just started and it’s all new. It is a very exiting time to be an artist.
How was your process of deciding to work mostly with watercolour on paper? Is it a technical reason or a media that helps you achieve that childish palette and softness related to your works?
I do love working with watercolour on lots of different types of paper, mainly because it can be delicate and powerful at the same time, at the moment I am working with oil paint on canvas.
Also making some more animation films, and thinking about new ideas for some ceramic sculptures.
Do you consider yourself a surrealist painter? What is your thought on the art terms classifications and do you think they have done damage to the way we perceive art?
I think of myself as an artist, I am interested in all the arts.
What would you like the viewer to feel/understand when looking at your works? And on the contrary, what reaction or perception from the viewer surprises you?
I try to make my art works as simple as possible and not to have a fixed meaning, I want them to be open to different stories and many interpretations. Reactions from viewers can be interesting as people see what they want to see, one of my paintings in the collection at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art had a complaint about it. The gallery phoned me to say a school teacher had complained about my painting titled Hold that it should not be in the gallery as it showed a child that had been shot dead in a Scottish school. I explained the painting had been made before the shooting had taken place. And that children are always being killed all over the world. The painting was not about any one child, or about any one story. I think the painting is still in the collection.
Why the eyes? What is so intriguing about them that your work constantly evolves around their image?
I love to travel as much as I can, in 1984 I was in India for the first time. I am very interested in religious art and stayed in a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, while there, one of the large Buddhist statues was being repaired by some of the monks. The last part to be painted was the eyes, they believe that once the eyes are painted the figure is alive.
What surprises you the most of the evolution of your work?
One of the main surprises for me now as an old artist is that most of my art works look like art works I was making when I was young, they are the same but different that is what makes it interesting for me and gives me the energy to continue. When I was young I would ask my Father why he never wanted to travel and see new places, he said he is happy to walk the same walk every day, and that every day it would be different.
Do you think teaching influenced your career somehow?
Teaching can be very strange. I never wanted to teach, but a few years ago I moved to France and was asked to teach. I am very happy I said yes. Most of the time I love it, as I teach in Paris
I get to see great art of all kinds, and have made some good friends. It is good to be open and try new things from time to time.
You have a long trajectory of solo and collective exhibitions, any show in particular that you would like to highlight and why?
I have had many solo and collective exhibitions over the years, some of them have been interesting and opened up new ways of working. Two years ago I spent two months in New Zealand
producing a set of lithograph prints, this was a big challenge and something new for me, next year I will have a solo exhibition at the CAC Malaga I am currently thinking about the art works for this exhibition and how it will look.
How do you think this show “Love flows from your eyes” helps you depict your current oeuvre?
I am very happy to now be working with Alzueta Gallery, this is my first exhibition with the gallery and showing a few new watercolours. I only know Barcelona from one or two visits.
I hope to visit the gallery soon.
Click here to discover the exhibition on Artsy.