You should never judge a book by its cover, and James McQueen is keeping his firmly under wraps. The elusive artist, who operates under a name as fictitious as the titles he paints, is the newest artist to join Castle Fine Art, with his book-themed Non-Fiction collection already proving to be a page-turner with our collectors.
Supercharged with colour, James' book-themed artworks create an effect not dissimilar to the giant playing cards in Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Taking an object you can hold in your hands and blowing it up into something you can hang on your wall has been a long-time fascination of the artist, who seeks to capture the look and feel of vintage books via layers of stripped-back paint. An avid collector, he can often be found amongst the dusty shelves and secret backrooms of old bookshops in New York and London.
Using paint and a spray can, James light-heartedly subverts the traditional representation of Penguin Books covers through his tongue-in-cheek titles and bold, contemporary aesthetic. The subject of books – explored by artists including the American illustrator Norman Rockwell – is given a modern feel through the incorporation of graffiti elements. Inspired by street artists like Banksy, these urban touches elevate the vintage, distressed feel of the book covers, adding texture and challenging their history. James adds: "I want to create that wear and tear, that authenticity. It’s too easy to do something clean. It’s too easy to do something with straight lines. It’s much harder to make something look old and tired."
Uniting book-lovers, ardent readers and collectors of art, his debut release, Non-Fiction, evokes the deeply personal experience and nostalgia that a book can create for its owner. Our emotional response to the words of a book – whether on the inside pages or the front cover – is personal to us. Just as each person interprets a character, or an artwork, differently, the quotes from James' book covers hold significance in uniquely special ways. The carefully-selected typography gives these titles a voice, allowing them to convey a message through humour or caution.
James is a collector not only of books, but of memories; as a child, he painted with his grandfather and watched The Joy of Painting, an American live-painting show starring Bob Ross. Stylistic influences have also been meticulously shelved: the boldness of Tracey Emin, the honesty of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the abstraction of Francis Bacon. Likened to those of Mark Rothko, his faded layers reveal a surprising complexity to his work, heightened by a background in photography and woodwork. Joined together like the letters of a word, all of these elements combine to create art for people who want to escape from the stress and seriousness of real life, as if into the pages of a good book.
Ahead of the launch of his new Non-Fiction collection, we visited James at his London studio to get the low-down on his book-themed artworks.
James is fascinated by the faded effect of vintage books, which he achieves by sanding down the layers of paint on the canvas to create an amazing mixture of hues, before finishing with a layer of lacquer. He explains: "I’ve always been interested in the way that books age; if you’ve got a stack of books on a shelf, the daylight will create incredible effects, making each cover fade into a spectrum of different colours. I want to create that old, that wear and tear, that authenticity. The exposure of these layers represents the history and journey of the artwork, just as a used book will have its own story."
A creative background in photography and woodwork has formed the perfect combination of skills needed to create his almost photorealist book covers. Like the American abstract painter Mark Rothko, James produces an endless succession of rich variants on the canvas with regions of pure colour, which he further abstracts. Rothko, famous for his layered transparencies of vibrant pigments and earth tones, created luminous and ethereal soft-edged compositions through colour - a technique that James has modified for his own work.
James explores typography when selecting his quotes, ensuring that each font matches the tone of voice. The quotes he chooses are both humorous and cautionary, occasionally controversial, but always eye-catching. He adds: "I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I want to have fun and play with the quotes, maybe take it a little too high or close to the edge, but it’s all about balance. It’s a bit like when you want to go out and dress up in a certain way. Sometimes you might wonder, 'Am I brave enough to wear this?'."
If you like reading about our artists' studios, don't miss our regular Studio Sessions feature in Fine Art Collector magazine. Catch up on previous issues here.
We’re delighted to present the debut collection from James McQueen, ‘Non-Fiction’. Supercharged with colour, the book-themed launch fuses the artist’s love of vintage books with a contemporary aesthetic.
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