Meticulously rendered in subtle tones of black and white, New Tattoo (Lot 47), Beers (Lot 48) and Sid and Socks (Lot 49) by James White continue the artist's archiving of the minutiae of daily life. Expertly executed in oil on plywood panels, these paintings are created from photographs White takes of the everyday objects that surround him. These snapshots were captured mainly in hotel rooms and the artist's studio, both locations lending a sense of isolation and remoteness to the works. Similar to a cutaway shot in cinema, these photorealist images are devoid of any dramatic tension, instead honing in on the mundane items that litter our modern life.
These particular three paintings are redolent of the familiar and untidy scenes of student living. New Tattoo focuses on a crude skull and armour tattoo, the moniker 'evil genius' emblazoned above it on an anonymous bicep. The dark ink gleams as if freshly applied, displaying the artist's impeccable attention to detail. In the background we can see a cramped, bedsit-like space, its contents strewn about haphazardly. This setting features again in Sid and Socks (2003), in which the artist portrays odd socks drying on a radiator underneath a poster of Sid Vicious which has been hastily tacked to the wall. Beers (2002) zooms in even closer on White's world. This work depicts the remnants of a student party, with two glistening Heineken cans discarded on the floor having been ripped from their plastic six pack rings. In each of these works White's precise white highlights allow the prosaic objects to dazzle, while the latter two still lives conjure up human presence through its very absence.
There is a deep level of scrutiny in White's works, intensified by his use of intriguing compositions rendered in a sparse palette of black and white. The artist himself has spoken of his connection to the Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara, whose work includes a series of canvases bearing single dates. Like Kawara's paintings, White's works can be interpreted as meditations on time; but while Kawara's numerals merely record its merciless passing, White's depictions of quiet, familiar surroundings remind us of those lost moments where the human eye is absent yet the world keeps turning. In essence the artist strives to create contemporary genre paintings, combining a tradition that had its roots in 17th century Flemish interiors with the conceptual photography of the 1960s and 1970s, which he executes in a flawless photorealist technique. Like his Flemish ancestors, White demonstrates how the astonishing properties of oil can convert the secular into something almost sacred. In these three immaculate paintings emptied of colour, objects are transformed from the routine tools of the everyday into symbolic fragments of life.
Born in 1967, White exhibited with the Young British Artists in the 1990s but his decision to work in oils distanced him from his contemporaries. Discussing his practice the artist has explained: 'in the nineties British artists became known for incorporating the media into their ideal of art. The notion of sensationalism was at that time as much about the mechanisms of mass culture as it was about shock value. My current work can be seen as a departure from such a media savvy approach to making art and is instead a deliberate return to more traditional modes of artistic production with reference to small scale Dutch 17th century oil painting and the black and white American street photographers of the 1940s and 1950s, such as Weegee. I think that often the banal can be more insightful than attempting to construct a false subject' (J. White in conversation with B. Lousen, Dazed & Confused, 2003).