James Griffith

Images | Biography

April 16 - May 28, 2022

Reception: April 16, 2022 5-7 pm

Artist Talk: April 30, 2022 11 am


In this body of work, I examine my sense of place in the universe, orbiting a small sun, on a tiny planet, as part of a network of life. I ask if we can recognize ourselves in the eyes of other species who are fellow passengers on this elliptical ride. Painting is how I make these ideas visible, how I record feelings, and how I bring subconscious motivations and themes into the light for observation.

Animals began appearing in my work when I read Darwin’s books about evolution and extinction. I began to see other species with the same importance I afford to human beings. With each painting I try to imaginatively become or inhabit my subject. I become the rabbit, mouse, or bear that I am painting. In this way I give credibility, value, and equality to my subject.

My images are made by scratching or etching into a layer of tar on a panel. This method grew out of my love for the 19th century engravings that naturalists like Darwin made to document their findings. As I began emulating their linear crosshatch patterns, I found I could record the smallest details of an animal’s body and facial expressions. I felt I was nose to nose with my subjects, imagining their breath, their heat, their whiskered itching. This unexpected intimacy was a transformational experience that added a more open-ended compassion to my world view.

Unfortunately, we live in a time of crisis. The networks of our natural lives are collapsing around us. On nights when I don’t lose sleep over this I still wake at dawn and, before I rise, try to make sense of my life in light of the tragedies of our time. I come up with many questions that can’t be answered. Words fail me, but after a pot of coffee, I go to work painting again.

These dawn meditations on the current conditions of life became the inspiration for my paintings of words and phrases. I have long been interested in the relationship between paintings and their titles. I sometimes imagine the title of a painting floating across the canvas the way a title sequence passes over a movie screen in the cinema. In the series Dawn’s Early Light, the titles become skywriting across images of the sunrise. The open-ended ambiguity of a word’s meaning makes it a worthy muse for art. These works pose questions without a specific agenda and that viewers can answer for themselves. The painting, Words Fail Me, was spawned by my frustration with political battles of the day, however, when placed in a cosmic landscape, the phrase also came to express my awe and wonder for our small living planet.

In pursuit of a vision of our place in the universe, from the ancient stardust origins of life to the current environmental crisis, I present these paintings hoping to evoke compassion for the life that our planet and other heavenly bodies will engender, with or without humans.

April 30, 2022
Artist Talk with James Griffith