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James de Villiers

Born 10 March 1954

Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu-Natal. 

Currently lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.


My work is concerned with change, decay, destruction and the passage of time. It also specifically deals with the vulnerability and recovery of nature. It is only over the last eight years that I have been able to paint full time, although I have been an active artist in many media since the age of nineteen as well as various periods of operating fringe galleries and facilitating art, poetry and experimental music events.

I work in both abstract and realist modes, moving from one mode to the other keeps my attention focused and my vision fresh. Each mode or style of art-making enables me to express myself in the most appropriate way the artistic vision demands. However, over the past ten years, I have been concentrating mainly on abstraction using a variety of media including acrylics, oils, pastels, charcoal and screenprinting. From an early age I have been greatly influenced by Nature, both from a scientific and an aesthetic view, and have been aware of the destructive influence of human activity on the environment. One of my early art influences was the visionary artist and poet William Blake.

The influence and inspiration for my present work comes directly from the simultaneous study of the French artist Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” and working and meditating in the garden. I was studying the painting and found the original plans for the actual raft online and built a scale model. I 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 me to think of birds’ nests and at the same time, I happened to be doing a lot of trimming in the garden, ending up with piles of twigs, flowers, leaves and branches.

The chaotic grid patterns that the branches formed, the idea of humankind shaping nature to conform to aesthetic ideas, the wastage and the whole question of ecology soon began to inform my 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. My study of World War 1 trench maps and comparisons with present-day terrain is used extensively in a number of interpretive works.

Some of my current artwork deals with flowers, especially when they have fallen on the ground, forming these seemingly chaotic formations with their decay also producing effects not seen in the normal blossoming flower. I find the decay processes of plant material fascinating and also the way nature recycles itself in an unending cycle of growth and degeneration.

 "From man-made machines such as the Large Hadron Collider that allow us to detect, visualise and measure the smallest conceivable parts of matter to the telescopes like the Hubble observing the collisions of galaxies; these are the fascinations that entice the disciplines, expressive and intellectual, to understand and interpret the world around us. The efforts of humanity to chart and map these forces and vectors and the conflicts and understandings that arise from this. The artists and visionaries, philosophers, physicists, engineers, mathematicians, astronomers and numerous other fields all play a part in unveiling the secrets behind the forces which influence every aspect of our lives".

In my art, I wish to express and visualise a small part of that quest and share with the viewer the overpowering sense of the awesome and the seemingly chaotically complex universe in which we exist; through abstraction which allows us a sense of being able to hopefully express a normally inexpressible spirituality, and realism which allows us to grasp the essence of physical magnitude and often times the terrifying chaos of beauty.  

Other major influences on my art include Gerhard Richter, Claudio Bravo, Anselm Kiefer, Christian Boltanski, Marc Rothko, Brice Marden, Turner, Constable and many others.

My main themes are derived from a study of military, art and social history, archaeology, science, ecology and music.

Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. 2022

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