James Jean‘s first solo exhibit, Kindling, opened on Saturday and it is fantastic. It was a larger collection of work than I had expected, mostly large scale mixed media paintings, with a number of small meticulously crafted sketches and drawings.
James describes his subjects as “gliding through the tableaux, tracing a narrative of thwarted desires.” His work in general, and this show in particular, is often entirely populated by children. The fluidity and ease at which he draws and the atmospheric application of color creates a pleasant space to be in…until you actually look at what is going on: unflinching and without judgment, Jean shows children as adorable and sweet and all id.
His use of line work and limited value ranges are often compared to Asian scroll painting, although I imagine his years working on the Bill Willingham’s fairy tale-inspired comic books series, Fables, has also been an influence. The larger paintings create mythic worlds full of symbolism and topsy-turvy logic. Grimm and their dark acknowledgment of children never seem too far away.
Words like brilliant and genius are too often bandied about but in the case, James Jean is a remarkable artist who (it’s hard to believe) at 30 has only just started his career. I can’t imagine what will come out of him over the next 30 years.
Kindling is on display at the Johnathan LeVine Gallery in New York City through February 7th. (Full address and map in our event calendar.)
All the paintings and drawings are on display at the Johnathan LeVine Gallery website.
I hear that Chronicle Books will be publishing a catalog of the exhibit. In the meantime, Fables Covers is a stunning collection of Jean’s paintings alongside sketches, alternate covers, and thoughts from Jean on the various covers.
A few photos from the opening here.