James de Villiers is a visual artist based in Kensington, Johannesburg. Born 1954 in Pietermaritzburg, he has resided in Johannesburg since 1980.
He has participated in group shows in South Africa, a group exhibition, “Transmigrations” which travelled to the USA and Mexico and has had several solo exhibitions. Mainly painting in oils, he has artworks in private and corporate collections in South Africa as well as in the USA, England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, Austria and elsewhere.
De Villiers has been mainly self-taught but has had periods of study at UNISA and the Bloemfontein Technikon Art School in the 1970s. Most of his technical skills he attributes to learning in the printing, theatre, advertising, graphic design and retail display industries. He also learned a great deal from his mother who was a part-time artist. The late Pietermaritzburg artist and teacher Susan Pontin and his friend, sculptor Frank Brandl were also major influences in his early development.
In the 1990s de Villiers organised numerous art exhibitons and functions in the various edgy fringe galleries he ran, starting from the temporary gallery spaces he arranged for the Fringe of the Africus Bienalle in 1995 to the three versions of Gallery111 in the Bez Valley and Kensington suburbs of Johannesburg, a phase which ended in 2004. In between those spaces, there were also the Small SpacesGallery at Carfax, Newtown and the De Villiers Gallery in Fairview both also in Johannesburg.
He subsequently decided to concentrate more on his own art production while still composing soundscapes, editing and producing poetry Cds for various poets and poetry groups and working with experimental musicians with whom he had become involved with while running his galleries. He worked concurrently to all these art activities as a news graphic artist for a business newspaper from 1996 to September 2014 when he decided to pursue art on a full-time basis.
At present, de Villiers is working mainly on abstract paintings executed in acrylic and oil as well as hand-manipulated silkscreen prints on paper and canvas. A major project he is presently undertaking is a large 2-metre x 3-metre still life painting commission for a client in the UK.
My artworks are based on memories and impressions of subject matter from nature, I only use photography as a guide to forms and colours and as visual notes. Most of my paintings are started off in a very spontaneous manner and involve many layers of paint in order to build up depth and texture. I utilise thin colour glazes as well as varying thicknesses of impasto paint, often using pastels, charcoal and scraping objects to achieve the desired effects. In my present body of work, Impressionism and Expressionism largely influence the way I paint. I have been influenced by painters Anselm Kiefer and lately Pierre Soulange among others.
James de Villiers has been active as an artist, since about the age of 19 and has followed a path of continual exploration, experimentation and self-education.
De Villiers work is concerned with change, decay, destruction and the passage of time. It also specifically deals with the vulnerability and recovery of nature. At present his paintings, though stylistically different from much of the past works which were realistic, still derive from the same themes. He has found that he prefers nowadays to be more energetic and spontaneous. He also experimented with using pastels, a medium whose unique qualities he only discovered later in his artistic career. He also started using acrylics for abstract work as well. De Villiers is currently working in an abstract way, moving to a realism when the subject demands it and this keeps his attention focused and his vision fresh. Each mode or style of art-making enables him to express himself in the most appropriate way the vision demands.
A large part of his present work comes directly from the simultaneous study of Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” and working in the garden. He was studying the painting and found the original plans for the actual raft online and built a scale model. James was fascinated by the grid, the way a grid was used as a life support mechanism and what that raft can represent conceptually. It led him to think of birds’ nests and at the same time, he happened to be doing a lot of trimming in the garden, ending up with piles of twigs, leaves and branches.
The chaotic grid patterns that the branches formed, the idea of man shaping nature to conform to aesthetic ideas, the wastage and the whole question of ecology soon began to inform his art-making. The grids are also a reminder of maps and the chaos of the layering of history on the landscape through wars and disasters. His study of World War 1 trench maps and comparisons with present-day terrain is used extensively in a number of interpretive works.
Another great influence and inspiration have been the recent studies in particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. His art encompasses the very large and very small elements of nature.
His other influences include artists William Blake, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Christian Boltanski, Marc Rothko, Brice Marden, Turner, Constable and many others.
De Villiers main themes are derived from a study of military, art and social history, an interest in archaeology, science, ecology and music.