James Blackwell

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James Blackwell graduated from the National Art School with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Photography and continued with an Honours degree in drawing in 2002. Since then, he has continued to exhibit in commercial galleries in Sydney and the Blue Mountains. In 2010, Blackwell had a solo show at Bathurst Regional Gallery titled ‘Second Nature’ and exhibited in 2014 at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre as part of their Expose local artist project. Blackwell has also participated in the coveted Hill End Residency and in 2013 was involved in the Bundanon Trust Residency.


"...western culture was set adrift in an ocean of passing stimulation, with no anchors to secure it."
Michael Kimmelman, NY Times, published August 2, 2009

The onslaught, pace and ubiquity of change in modern life has said to have altered the way our brains are being wired. Our ability and need to adapt to this continuous flux leaves us reaching out for something concrete, something familiar, something certain. My art practice is an attempt to reestablish a connection with nature and offer pause and reflection in an intimate space as an antidote to the barrage of stimulation which has taken host in our ever-evolving technological world.

My anchor is the landscape in which I live, the Blue Mountains of NSW. Here, the seasons are distinct, reliable and inevitable. This landscape adapts to the backdrop of seasons and offers inspiration in its repetition and symmetry. A value embodied in the artwork I create.

Using natural materials found in the landscape, I 'play' with symmetry and form using paper as a support to create three dimensional assemblages that require an intimate viewing. I am aware of repetition and symmetry in my life on many levels: from the continuance of daily life and the activities which we need to carry out repetitively such as bathing and brushing one's teeth, to the reiteration of form found at the intrinsic and infinitesimal level of nature.

The elements that make up the matrix of my work represents our interconnectedness with our environment. My artwork is not representational in any sense, but still it represents to me the landscape in its undulating form, colour, symmetry and rhythm.

There is a relationship between the collecting, sorting, cutting and arranging of found materials on the surface of the artwork and the internal processes, which seek to find some kind of equilibrium and internal tangible aesthetic.

Paper is a reconstitution of fibers found in nature, and a wonderfully diverse medium to use. The textural quality of paper complements the materials woven and constructed on the surface of the work. Sometimes, I may remain with a theme and variations of a particular way of folding paper to reveal a structural representation of simplicity, elegance, and quietude. Symmetry is the vehicle by which I strive to attain this.

“Nature is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws. She hums the old well-known air through innumerable variations.” - Emerson, Ralph Waldo

James Blackwell – A Catalogue Essay for Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, 2010', by Dr Peter Shepherd


Art speaks to us without words. Sometimes those words need a translator, or at least someone versed in the particular idiosyncrasies of the dialect. In contemporary art, it is unusual to find work capable of speaking a language that needs no translation but is understood by all. James Blackwell’s work comes close.

I have been privileged to acquaint myself with Blackwell’s work in ways most wouldn’t: firstly, as a viewer, captivated by the work in a gallery. Secondly, I have been granted access to his studio and seen works in various stages of progress. Thirdly, I have worked in a gallery that represented him, and have seen firsthand the reactions of others to his work on a daily basis. I have been witness to the work’s effect on others, the stillness that overcomes them, their total absorption, often lasting minutes.

What is it that enthrals these viewers so much? When asked, most would mention at first, being amazed by the sheer amount of work, patience and attention to detail involved in their making. All though, would eventually hint at, if not articulate, the manner in which the works are a catalyst for meditation. The complex grid structures capture and hold the eye, silencing the mind. The making of the works is emblematic, too, of meditation, requiring an unusual amount of mindfulness and mental clarity, with a drifting mind potentially disastrous. In today’s media-drenched, fast-paced world, such stillness is a rare occurrence. Blackwell states: “This is my rebuke, my quiet protest to the unstoppable noise which permeates our culture.” The protest is working.

The use of natural materials delights viewers. It binds the works in their recognisable and physical world, thus making any abstract ideas more accessible. Once again, most viewers seen to grasp, even if they can’t articulate, the exploration of harmony, repetition and symmetry in the works, and how this is a reflection of the natural world at the infinitesimal level. Unlike work that imitates or interprets the landscape, Blackwell’s work is inspired by nature, but separate from it; a parallel creation, birthed by man and nature combined. Because of this, they are a reminder of people’s ability to create. Furthermore, the works remind us of our unity with nature. They destroy simple man/nature dichotomies, just as they destroy those of wilderness/civilisation and chaos/order, revealing instead the geometry that lies beneath the surface of everything in the world.

In his work, the natural materials- things collected on walks, usually unnoticed and trampled underfoot by others- are given new life. They line the shelves of his studio, neatly organised into separate glass jars, as full of potential as caterpillars. He doesn’t always know their common, let alone scientific name. It is inconsequential; their inherent qualities- colour, shape, weight- are of interest, not names set by humans. He shows us their beauty. Dried- more to the point, dead- purple flowers become joyful funambulists cavorting across twig tightropes. Seeds sit proudly on paper pedestals, arranged in a rhythmic formation dictated by their colour and shape. The paper, often bought, sometimes homemade, is given equal role in Blackwell’s choreography. Its symbolism is multiple in that its origins are natural, yet transformed by human hand, in its connotations of death and rebirth, as well as environmental destruction brought about by man. It parallels the other materials in that it is often overlooked: what is usually valued are the marks made on top. In this way, Blackwell gives it too, a new life and context.

The natural materials Blackwell uses also hold connotations of death and rebirth and the passage of time. Varnished to preserve their beauty and colouring, they are suspended in limbo, neither dead nor alive, yet living through their new role as art and symbol. There is poetry in this that needn’t be fully understood for its impact to be felt. Again, no words are needed.

Complementing the works on paper are Blackwell’s ‘Pods’. Often mistaken for ceramics, they are a combination of paper, wax, earth, pigment and other natural materials. They utilise the ancient and universal form of the vessel and are thus loaded with all the implications of inner and outer, symbol and utility, tangible and intangible. The connotations of the vessel with the feminine give rise to a beautiful sense of unity in their creation and veneration by a male. In these, more so than in the paper works, there is a sense of the passage of time, of the cyclical nature of life and death, stemming from the fragility of their materials. They are containers of beauty and to me recall John Armstrong’s quote from ‘The Secret Power of Beauty’:
“The beautiful object creates in the mind of those who attend to it the spiritual home that reality does not provide.”
Blackwell was a winner of the Exposé Program run by the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, which promotes a selection of emerging local artists. His resulting exhibition, Native Grid II, will include exciting developments for the artist, such as installation works and larger scale pieces. Blackwell was recently awarded the Windmill Trust Scholarship (NAVA) and the money will go toward the cost of producing this exhibition. It will be held at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in February 2015. 

Caterina Leone


View Available Works


Prior Exhibitions at Lost Bear Gallery

View James Blackwell's - The Native Grid II Exhibition

View 'Trove' 2015 Exhibition

View 2013 Exhibition

View 2011 Exhibition

View 2009 Exhibition

James Blackwell has a booklet available for purchase.


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