James de Villiers

Born 10 March 1954

Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu-Natal. 

Currently lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.


James de Villiers has been active as an artist, since about the age of 19 and has followed a path of continual exploration, experimentation and self-education.


Over the past ten years or so his painting style has undergone several radical changes although the expressionistic style is one he had in the 1980s. He has been influenced mainly by the Dutch, German and Flemish masters and has produced a large body of realist works which include landscape, still life, portraits and skyscapes. A small part of his output in the 1990s includes paintings based on South African history, namely the Anglo Boer War and the Zulu War. He works between realism and expressionism, utilising the particular style when the need demands it.


De Villiers work is concerned with change, decay, destruction and the passage of time. It also specifically deals with the vulnerability and recovery of nature. At present his paintings, though stylistically different from much of the past works, still derive from the same themes. He has found that he prefers nowadays to be more energetic and spontaneous. He also experimented with using pastels, a medium whose unique qualities he only discovered later in his artistic career. So from about 2010 onwards, pastels feature prominently along with powdered pigment and layering with varnish. He also started using acrylics for abstract work as well. De Villiers is presently working simultaneously in both abstract and realist modes, moving from one mode to the other keeps his attention focused and his vision fresh. Each mode or style of art making enables him to express himself in the most appropriate way the vision demands.


A large part of his present work comes directly from the simultaneous study of Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” and working in the garden. He was studying the painting and found the original plans for the actual raft online and built a scale model. James was fascinated by the grid, the way a grid was used as a life support mechanism and what that raft can represent conceptually. It led him to think of birds’ nests and at the same time, he happened to be doing a lot of trimming in the garden, ending up with piles of twigs, leaves and branches.


The chaotic grid patterns that the branches formed, the idea of man shaping nature to conform to aesthetic ideas, the wastage and the whole question of ecology soon began to inform his art making. The grids are also a reminder of maps and the chaos of the layering of history on the landscape through wars and disasters. His study of World War 1 trench maps and comparisons with present-day terrain is used extensively in a number of interpretive works.


Another great influence and inspiration have been the recent studies in particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. His art encompasses the very large and very small elements of nature.


His other influences include William Blake, Claudio Bravo, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Christian Boltanski, Marc Rothko, Brice Marden, Turner, Constable and many others.


De Villiers main themes are derived from a study of military, art and social history, an interest in archaeology, science, ecology and music.