When Pop Art exploded in the USA in the 1960s, the artworld changed forever. At the forefront of the movement was James Francis Gill, a Texas-born architectural designer who would go on to count Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol amongst his peers.
From a stint in the United States Marine Corps to breakfast with John Wayne, James’ life has been as colourful as his art. Celebrated for his montage effects, he captures the American Dream through intimate portraits of stars like Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan and Grace Kelly. His painterly style has been likened to Francis Bacon, while the New York Times in 1962 prophesised that his art was ‘jazzy and up-to-date…an artist to watch’.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1962, he grabbed the attention of the art dealer Felix Landau, who had already introduced artists like Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Francis Bacon and David Hockney to the US art market. He went on to be commissioned to paint the covers of famous titles like Time magazine, and capture public figures like John Wayne and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Following a long list of celebrity collectors and an international breakthrough at the Sao Paulo 9 Biennale (1967), James went into self-imposed exile in 1972 to develop his artistic expression away from the constraints of the material world. During this time, his ‘Marilyn Triptych’ stayed in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where it resides to this day.
Speaking on his return, James says: “For me it is absolutely exciting to return to Great Britain after so many years. I am happy that my works are shown here, because here art has always played an important role in people's lives - just like in mine.”
James' separations of light and shadow are inspired by magazines. As a child, he was gifted a July 1914 issue of National Geographic by a colleague of his father. The edition featured the publication’s first-ever natural colour photographs and sparked a lifelong passion for imagery. Working with montage effects – which he terms metamage – James has experimented with techniques including stone lithography, intaglio printmaking, woodcuts and etching.
Painterly in style, James’ art transcends the parameters of Pop Art. Described by the late art scholar William Seitz as an ‘incisive and startling commentator’ whose art is ‘timeless and universal’, he merges iconography with startling colour. He believes that every painting is an experience, and even jokes that sleep is something he has to endure to start a new artwork each morning.
In her 1966 book, Pop Art, Lucy Lippard notes that: ‘Often he mimics the effects of excerpted frames from a film strip, or fixes a transient television image’, while the photographer Van Deren Coke remarked that the cut-off format of many of James’ artworks owes its origin to camera-vision.
The 1960s saw not only anti-war protests and sexual liberation, but also the explosion of the Pop Art movement. As one of the last living Pop Art pioneers, James Francis Gill captures the American Dream in his unique new collection.
From a stint in the United States Marine Corps to breakfast with John Wayne, James' life has been as colourful as his art. Celebrated for his montage techniques of intimate portraits, his style has been likened to Francis Bacon.
In his first visit to the UK since 1965, we are delighted to invite you to meet the artist at our series of upcoming events.
As one of the last living Pop Art pioneers, James Francis Gill expertly captures the American Dream in his stunning new collection of serigraphs - all of which are expertly printed onto handmade paper.
Counting Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Indiana amongst his peers, the Texas-born artist took the art world by storm in the 1960s, becoming one of the first-ever Pop artists to have work displayed at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York.
It is an honour to celebrate his return to the forefront of contemporary art with this spectacular series.
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