Mark Westall, FAD, March 15, 2021

THE FOURTH is thrilled to be starting the new year fresh with an insightful solo show presenting recent work by the esteemed multimedia artist, British born Alexander James. Keep It In The Family is the very first product of the Gorgeous FOURTH artist residency programme, a collaboration between THE FOURTH gallery and the Gorgeous George hotel.


Keep It In The Family comprises an alluring collection of small and large scale works on canvas and paper alongside photography, video and performance installations. The body of work is a mesmerising chronicle of past and present experiences of environments and the people inhabiting them. The exhibition asks what defines a person’s identity in today’s world by probing subcultures in the city. James also unpacks the notion of personal identity by nostalgically exploring his own childhood memories through representations of familial memorabilia. The artist combines recollections from his youth with that of his public observations to construct a seductive dream-like reality.


In this exhibition, James focuses his attention on the city of Cape Town. He draws inspiration from the cityscape as well as from the natural beauty of the landscapes that surround it. Coming from a major metropolitan city he resonates with the vibrancy and chaos within these environments and aims to capture them in his work. This body of work has been influenced by the bustling area of St. Georges Mall in particular where the artist’s studio is located, honing onto the restaurants, bars, markets and most importantly people that make up the fabric of the city centre in Cape Town. The artist interviewed and conversed with people in the area surrounding his studio, observing everyday life, transcribing conversations and sketching in a prelude to painting. His creative process was fueled by navigating his way through the inner city centre and becoming struck by the range of sights, smells and sounds in the area. These meanders produced a visual diary of photographs, sketches and social encounters to add to the artist’s ‘memory bank’ on which he draws when creating works of art.


In a direct response to his surroundings, James deconstructs and reimagines the city to create an abstracted reality for the viewer. The cityscape is often suggested in his paintings and the artist also uses text and motifs to express popular culture. With his intimate visual descriptions of the people around him, the artist examines fluidity of identity and the versatility of appearances in subcultures. The characters in the surrounding community of St. Georges Mall are evident in his series of small format portraits.


James’ own recollections of London and Cape Town are interwoven with that of his subjects’ in his dream-like scenes. His fascination with personal identity turns inward in the performance and installation elements of the exhibition which are nostalgic and reflective. In the pursuit of the guiltless innocence of childhood, James reflects on his experience of adolescence where his adult persona was formed. This speaks to the artist’s previous solo exhibitions Dancing on Lava In A Moment of Decadence (2020), Look What The Cat Dragged In (2020), and the group exhibition One More Slope ( 2020) in London in which he relates to today’s world as it relates to themes of digitisation, globalisation and memory. Keep It In The Family delves into the individual expression of personal identity through subcultures found in the city. It is clear now more than ever just how important human connection is after a year in isolation and separation. Human interaction is treasured and public life has taken on a new meaning entirely. While in Cape Town far from his hometown of London, Alexander James furthered his ability to comprehend the cultural moment society is currently in. He found himself celebrating memory and community in his pursuit to comprehend human nature, arriving in a better understanding of not only society but also of himself.