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James Griffith
( R )evolution
Reflecting on Charles Darwin

Push Me Pull YouAs the earth whirls ever faster into a future of drastically altered climate and vanishing animal species, artist, James Griffith strives to address the essential questions that Charles Darwin asked: Who are we? How did we get here? Where are we going? Griffith's sepia-tone paintings intentionally parallel early photography as well as representing his vision of the primordial origins of life. In these panels with exquisitely rendered animals, mutating from species to species, playing tug-o-war between evolution and extinction, the artist portrays his fascination with Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection, the big idea that shook the very foundation of the Victorian world. This (R) evolution drives the substance and the method in which he works. Griffith's empathetic view of animals as our equals (or better) is described in paintings that intrinsically vacillate between abstraction and naturalistic representation, work that insists man is not separate from nature at all, but rather, shares a mutual inheritance of physicality, vulnerability and constant change.

In these images animals mysteriously materialize from shadows, clouds and pools painted in tar from the La Brea Tar Pits, the real primordial goo, graphically etched with a sharp steel point and sometimes colored with touches of life affirming yellow pollen and poisonous Copper Sulphate. These renderings of mice, mountain lions and migratory birds poetically speak this artist's version of the entrance of evolutionary theory into the theater of Victorian consciousness- a stage on which man had previously stood supreme, front and center.

James Griffith's images evanesce rather than depict. The tar, thinned by mineral spirits and tamed, only slightly, by driers and water, collects on his panels in brown pools that swirl and dry. He combines this fertile Pre-Cambrian ground with gestural abstraction coupled with remarkable skills of observation and intimately descriptive drawing to create works that are simultaneously Romantic and very contemporary. Often these works explore the cyclic nature of life, joining macrocosm and microcosm through the fluid use of tar as both atmosphere and image.

Occasionally he dips into the specifics of history and theory as the basis for a painting or installation. Griffith portrays Darwin's famous and formative voyage on the ship, Beagle, whimsically, as a dog (beagle) dragging a string of toppling Victorian chairs into a turbulent sea. In another large canvas, two stags emerge from the Stygian geologic swamp to lock antlers and battle towards the inevitable survival of the fittest. In his installation, The Oyster Question, a portrait of Jane Carlyle, the wife of Thomas Carlyle, a 19th Century rival of Darwin, is painted in tar on a mirror. Her sinuous hairdo exposes one ear, which Griffith mimics in small paintings of human ears upon 100 oyster shells, arranged on the wall around the mirror. In still another mixed media installation, electric light bulbs burn steadily towards extinction, with images of hovering moths painted on their surfaces.

(R)evolution gathers together a body of astonishing works ranging in media from painting and drawing to multi-media and mixed media installations where James Griffith's consummate abilities as both artist and designer are matched by his own passion to honor the whole fabric of life on Earth and to understand the forces that have made us who we are. El Camino College is proud to offer the maiden voyage of this extraordinarily beautiful body of work.
Susanna Meiers/Curator

 Last Published 2/28/14