James Wolanin


Over on the right side of this page there's a list of links to artists' pages. It's kind of arbitrary whether I classify a page as an art blog or an artist's page; I kind of try to get a feel for what the page is for, and what the author is trying to do. In either case, I'm picky about who I put there: They're not just people whose pages I frequent, not just people I find mildly interesting; they're people I find intriguing, both as people and as artists.

If you look over there, you'll see James Wolanin listed. I like his blog, I like his Website, and he works in New Jersey, so I like having him around. He reported he was having a show in Philadelphia, at the Chapterhouse Cafe & Gallery. I try to get down to Philly every so often, mainly because my very good friend Scott Larson lives there, and since he's executive chef at Tír na nÓg, I can get free food. I had finished a painting back in December I wanted to give to Scott, too, so there was another reason to make the trip.

Scott and I found the Chapterhouse without too much trouble. (It was finding my car after that turned out to be the problem, because we're both idiots who forgot where we parked.) It's just off South Street, which is sort of the Greenwich Village of Philadelphia. Sort of, but sort of not. It's like Greenwich Village used to be, back when the Village had a bit of an edge, before Manhattan Island became all Disneyfied. South Street is where Philly stores its tattoo parlors, alternative music stores, vintage clothing shops, and generally weird crap. Starbucks has made its inroads, though. I'm convinced that if we ever send a manned mission to Mars, the astronauts will be greeted by a Starbucks.

Scott, who knows Philadelphia cafes better than I do, declared the Chapterhouse to be a pretty cool place. It's definitely large, which made us think with the rents being what they are, if you want to visit you'd better go quickly. The counter was manned by your typical pierced and tattooed Philly girl. When I was taking photos of the installation, she came up to me and scolded me like a young and exceptionally dim child: "Don't take pictures of people's art." I explained I knew the artist. I refrained from explaining that I'd been in more professional art venues in the last six months than she'd been in her whole life, and more, I've never met an artist who didn't want their work photographed.

James Wolanin, installation view, Chapterhouse Cafe & Gallery, 2006 About the worst thing I can say about James' paintings is that they reproduce well. If you've been to his site, you've got a really good idea of what his paintings look like in person. I'd almost say it's not worth seeing them. Almost. Of course the colors are more vibrant, and size does matter, so of course the online versions aren't quite as good as the originals. But his paintings reproduce better than anyone I've seen since Brian Alfred.

James Wolanin, One Thousand Virgins, After Ingres, 2006, acrylic on oak panel, 40x30 inches James' paintings are more interesting than Brian's, though. I like them a lot. I've written before that I don't like the use of text in paintings; and let me go on record right now as saying I also don't like paintings which reference other paintings. I think both techniques are too damned easy. If you can't say it visually, you write it; and if you can't think of anything yourself, you copy it. But here's the thing: James makes both techniques work. I don't mind it when he does it. I get the feeling from his paintings that both the words and the images emerge from some place inside him in the same way shapes and colors do.

James Wolanin, installation view, Chapterhouse Cafe & Gallery, 2006 I can't quite figure out what's going on in James' paintings. Are they pro-war, anti-war? Does he like soldiers and warplanes? What's "The New Heaven"? But that's okay. The images themselves carry their own meaning. It seems like they come from James' subconscious and I'm willing to let them seep into mine. His paintings are retinal, as Duchamp would say, but unlike Duchamp, I don't consider that an insult. They please my eye, and I'm good with that.

James Wolanin, installation view, Chapterhouse Cafe & Gallery, 2006 James falls into that category of artist where I think I could physically create his paintings but his ideas are so far beyond me I'm impressed. He makes his actual painting look easy: Stephanie and I joked about how nice it would be to be a taper, marking off areas of the canvas to fill in with flat color. And that's what James does (although I don't think he uses tape). But his work is in his concepts and his choices, which aren't obvious. For example, in "Ascension," where are the woman's nipples? I would never have painted a woman without nipples. And yet there she is. Maybe that's a trivial choice, but if you look, James chooses like that all over the place. Which shadows make up a face? How little detail does a viewer need to imagine lips pressed in a grim line? What shapes say "flower"?

If you can't tell, I'm a little jealous of James. I'm not often jealous of other artists, but James has found a great style and subjects which suit it. I wish I could steal his painting ideas.

I highly recommend making the trip to Philadelphia. You can see James' show, and then go to Tír na nÓg for dinner. Tell Scott I sent you.


your work is so unbeleivably putrid,I don't know how you dare to even voice an opinion about anyone elses-it is so cheesy and sleazy,how can you not see this???

It's the word "putrid" which gets me. Putrid. Wow. That's, like, really bad. Putrid.How am I supposed to know if my own work is putrid? If I thought it was, I'd stop, wouldn't I?Putrid. Yeah.

Aahhh. South Street, I spent a lot of time there, years ago and bought all my nose rings at Zipperhead. Now I feel old and tragically unhip when I go down there, which luckily isn't too often. This work is very interesting-I hope I can see it in person sometime. I enjoy watching his painting process on his blog.

Funny, Tracy, I didn't have you pegged as a nose ring kind of gal.But what do I know? My work is putrid.

I don't think putrid is necessarily bad. It's better than cute.Had me a few beers one night in my apartment in South Philly in 1988 and stuck a needle in my right nostril. It was infected for like, 2 years but it still made me way cool;-)I still have it despite moving into grandmother territory. (Not that I am, mind you) Not quite sure what to do with it at this point so I keep it in.

i am the "typical pierced and tattooed philly girl" you spoke of in chapterhouse cafe & gallery....and i am also the owner. may i advise you for next time not to just walk into someone's space unannounced and just start taking pictures. it was not very professional of you.

I should hardly need to point this out, but I am not a professional.Aside from that, in all honesty, I have yet to have an artist even once object to having their work photographed for any reason, and have even seen people given permission to take flash photos of artwork, which I personally would never do.So the idea that one shouldn't photograph art is pretty wrongheaded. Just about every museum and gallery allows it.

Leave a comment


OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.2.7