Todd James is preparing his first ever solo exhibition in Japan with a body of works entitled “Yield to Temptation” that will be on show at NANZUKA from June 2.
Todd James is known as one of the representative artists from the ’80s and ’90s street art scene in New York. A participant in the graffiti scene since his mid-teens, he is also known by his tag name REAS and has had an enormous effect on people of his generation around the world as a symbol of the driving force behind the underground culture of the time. The exhibition “Street Market” held at the Deitch Project gallery in NY in 2000 spread his fame into the formal art scene. In the exhibition, James joined with Barry McGee and Stephen Powers, who both went on to become international stars, to recreate a New York alleyway, covered in graffiti, on a massive scale. The exhibition was shown at the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and later travelled as far as the Parco Museum in Tokyo, stirring up a worldwide sensation.
James’ works are characterized by his use of innocent lines and forms along with colorful palate recalling the drawing style of children. This particular style, while possibly in part being influenced by UPA (United Productions of America) animations, is an expression of his creative worldview as he takes careful control to prevent his paintings from becoming too skilled by drawing without looking and by using his non-dominant hand. The central theme of his work is the contradiction between the familiarity that is at first apparent on the surface and the loaded tongue-in-cheek criticism of the under side of contemporary society. A tank smoking a cigarette, a naked woman with a machine gun and a skeleton, anthropomorphic fighter planes romping about innocently like children, a woman in a bathing suit playing in a pool of blood; motifs like these appear repeatedly throughout James’ works. He does not, however, consider himself to be particularly political. As he explains, each work is simply an assemblage of images created by adapting the information that streams out of TV shows and newspapers on a daily basis. James makes a satirical dig by taking the military-related news on “terrorism and war” constantly over-blown by the American media and turning it into a mirror reflecting the innocent, creative violence of children making games out of tanks and fighter planes and other generally destructive behavior.
This unique method and source of ideas is related to the fact that James is self-taught, which is also why his works remain far removed from the realm of ordinary academic paintings. It is also certainly a result of his being based in the dissident, anti-authoritarian core mentality that is graffiti.
James’ works, which originate from the self-teachings of the street, express more freedom than those by many academic artists, and this is why they are rather important within today’s art scene. In the face of the fact that James’ works attract the hearts of many people, they also strongly shake up the lofty, academic identity of contemporary art.
Todd James will be visiting Japan for the exhibition and a reception will take place on 6/2 (Sat) at 19:00 with the artist present. For this exhibition NANZUKA has also collaborated with New York publishing company Picture Box to present “Yield to Temptation”, a book of James’ drawings.