With a colour palette reminiscent of the Vorticists’ early 20th Century work, here is a collection of paintings with a fuzy focus on the real and imagined, crepuscular and strange. Welcome to a slow somnambulating journey through James Ursell’s beautiful yet sombre landscapes, a place inhabited by hypnagogic forms. Inspired by his (mis)rememberings of the Herefordshire borders, of “places and times that, like it or not, stick in the mind and resonate”.
These works mark a shift from his earlier cerebral and mythological pieces. They show subjects that in and of themselves would be considered highly evocative. A burst of birds in flight, the presence and force of a monumental humpbacked mountain rising in the landscape. The vitality of place does not only act as inspiration but oozes, permeating outwards with a gradual mesmeric effect. Sometimes the human figure is present yet codified, a head on the canvas’s margins, or a mottled form set within a magical setting.
Having studied at Cheltenham and Winchester School of Art, Ursell worked as a builder’s labourer for a year or so, living rough in a barn up in mid Wales. He had a car which he sold and got on a bus to Berlin. There he was lucky enough to meet many artists chiefly among them was David Medalla the Filipino Kinetic Performance artist who was on a DAAD residency there. David Medalla’s own paintings sowed a seed of possibility at a time when the medium was lagging in its popularity. Ursell had eight shows in the short time he spent there, returning with David to create the “Ecliptic Stelli”, a flying camera obscura for the Eclipse in 1999. It was at the time of the Eclipse that Ursell’s first painting came to him, “The Broken Flower”, now in the collection of his principal patron, Mathias Zintler, in Hamburg. Although Ursell continued to make large monumental installations, most notably “The Garden of Love”, a steady body of painting began to build. A British Council residency at Sacy-le-Petit helped further develop these embryonic canvasses. Ursell has been exclusively painting for the last seventeen years.