Anthony James’ work takes up the concepts of the universal and transcendental in order to demonstrate the impossibility of their representation. The historical cosmology of Plato is a primary inspiration, both for the sculptures of icosahedrons and for the silhouette of Baroque architect Francesco Borromini’s dome for Sant’Ivo in Rome. Colorful rings of neon nod to the ancient concept of the universe as a set of concentric planetary orbits. The effect is both esoteric and industrial, orphic and distinctly concrete. Modern art historical references abound as well – Bruce Nauman, Ellsworth Kelly, Minimalism – but the artist’s attention is on the wonderment and possibility presented by distant ideals.
Borromini was an adept of Neoplatonism and the designs of his buildings are expressions of its celestial symbolisms. Platonism posits a universe of ideal order and form accessible to reason. To echo this order and those forms in the material human realm is to attempt to synchronize our chaotic mortal world of appearances and sensations with the models of perfection attainable through the intellect. James’ sculptures and wall installations are representations of these metaphysical models. Because depiction of something beyond experience is impossible, James’ artworks have a peculiar sensibility, the melancholy precision and intentness of simulations.
The immersive, fluid convexity of space in Sant’Ivo becomes a thin, curved plane in metal hammered by hand to a muted sheen. It is the dome’s miniaturized, materialized shadow. Borromini’s revolutionary twisting star design has fallen into the present as a dark, contoured plane of steel that nonetheless retains some of the grace of the architectural original in the curves and points along its edges.
Icosahedrons – the geometric globes of twenty identical triangular facets – were a mathematical experiment in unity used by Plato to demonstrate an ideal compositional system of perfect symmetry in three dimensions. In a twenty-first century gallery space, the glass, steel, titanium, and LED structures bring a rigid and gleaming tangibility to the abstraction of the numerical calculation of flawless coherence. James’ objects are compelling approximations, facsimiles of understanding and belief thousands of years old that come down to us on our own terms of modern metals and technological light.
The neon spectrum works that provide the title for James’ exhibition are particularly poignant in the tension between references, effects, and materials. The Absolute Zero works are meticulously calibrated spectra of colored neon tubes arranged in concentric circles to evoke the radiance of sacred enlightenment. The hue and intensity of the colors are designed to create white light. The historical references here span empirical experimentation with prisms to the image, across cultures, of the universe-wheel. Neon is already in our time a somewhat outworn material and the visible wires and plugs that trail from the vibrant rings interrupt any illusions of transcendence. This is the paradox that James’ objects show, a formal certainty and perspicuity (exact symmetry, white light, accurate shape) that registers a loss of purity or autonomy or wholeness. His works illustrate ideals, but they themselves are very contingent and actual, particular, not universal: they are for today.
Anthony James is a British-born, LA based multi-media artist. He studied at Central St. Martins School of Art in London. He has exhibited at Patrick Painter, Los Angeles, Gavlak, West Palm Beach, Kantor/Feuer, New York, Art Basel, Marc Selwyn, Los Angeles, Blum and Poe, Los Angeles, The New Museum, New York, Spencer Brownstone Gallery, New York and Thread Waxing Space, New York. Anthony James’ first monograph, morphic fields, was published by Hatje Cantz in 2014.