When Pop Art exploded in the USA in the 1960s, the art world 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. Famously, he stepped away from his celebrity in the early 1970s (although continued painting), but the Pop Art pioneer was rediscovered in the 1990s, and was warmly received by both galleries and private collectors.
Gill's Women In Cars collection encompasses his revolutionary style of vivid hues and iconic faces that spans a career of over 60 years.
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".
Following a long list of celebrity collectors and an international breakthrough at the São Paulo 9 Biennial (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’ remained in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where it resides to this day.
A pioneer of the Pop Art movement, Gill’s works are visionary, timeless and universal. His iconic vibrant separations of light and shadow – typic of news photographs - are inspired by magazines like Time, Life and National Geographic. One of Pop Art’s hallmarks is its obsession with popular culture, and Gill’s Women in Cars series is firmly rooted in this. He began making the works in the 1960’s, when American magazines LIFE and TIME began printing paparazzi shots of film stars getting out of their cars.
Women in Cars could offer something those magazines couldn’t – colour – and when Gill's pieces began appearing in galleries, they were the epitome of cool modernity, and gave the public a chance to see celebrity in a new light. One of the earliest versions of the series, ‘Laughing Woman in Car and Close Up’ was purchased by and exhibited in MoMa between works by Picasso and Odilon Redon.
In the late 1980s Gill started to revisit the theme of women in cars, creating different studies and experimenting with a mix of abstraction and figuration. In the years 2020 to 2022, almost sixty years after his first works, acrylic paintings and studies are created which show the women In cars manifested in all their vivid colour and timeless presence.
The acrylic originals and studies in the Women in Cars collection are modern embodiments of an idea that was ahead of its time, anticipating the omnipresence of social media and the struggle to protect a personal and private space of existing. These modern pieces are steeped in the history of the Pop Art movement and bring a fresh and exciting insight into the workings of one of its last living pioneers.
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 Women In Cars series has continued to fascinate Gill, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s his works showed more of a mix of abstraction and figuration, created using Gill’s love of media reproduction through printing, digital drawing and overlaying of paint to create colour variations and occasionally overlayered his own previous works with new colour and shapes. Throughout this process Gill finally transported the Women In Cars into the modern age by depicting women who have adapted to the spirit of the times.
His most recent works in the series, created from 2020 – 22, are acrylic paintings and studies created with wonderful colours, and a youthful verve; modern and accomplished works remaining true to his Pop Art roots.
Introducing Women In Cars by James Francis Gill. This contemporary collection of original artworks focuses on the psyche of the celebrity alongside a visually stunning representation of the history of the Pop Art movement from one of the genres pioneers.
Showcasing the very best of our artworks, along with behind-the-scenes updates and interviews, the new issue of our Fine Art Collector magazine is a must-read!
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