Saturday, 5 November 2011

James Aldridge: Bloodlines

Blessed Black Wings, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 200 x 175cm

James Aldridge’s new exhibition, Bloodlines, currently on show at Poppy Sebire in London, offers an untamed vision of nature, tinged with heavy metal overtones.

Aldridge’s paintings mix highly detailed imagery of birds and plants with looser, more abstract backdrops. This is not the natural world as we normally perceive it. Instead, it is as if Aldridge has drawn back a curtain to reveal a psychedelic vision of nature, a roaring, swirling world that is violent and unpredictable. Perhaps this is a more accurate presentation of the great outdoors than we are typically given in art: it seems pertinent to mention that Aldridge lives in a Swedish forest, so he is undoubtedly more conscious of the everyday, casual brutality of the natural world than most of us.

Delirium, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 200 x 175 cm

Vertigo, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 200 x 298 cm

The history of nature painting has in part being about control, of humans looking objectively onto the natural world and documenting it, as if this somehow gives us power over it. Aldridge draws from ornithological field guides to create the birds in his paintings, though instead of presenting them in a sterile environment like that of the books, he transplants them into a unsettling, densely packed world, where the birds appear to have all the power. There is order here, though it is formed in lines of blood, which spill down the length of the canvases, offering both a violent threat as well a structural grid. It is no place for humans: even in the more pared-back images here, the birds are otherworldly, sporting many heads and aggressive, threatening expressions. It all taps into a base human fear of birds and the potential of their beaks, which Alfred Hitchcock was of course also all too aware.

In these latter works, the birds form symbols or mandalas, referencing a time when our belief systems were less informed by scientific discovery. These also reflect the influence of heavy metal on Aldridge’s work, another recurring theme. Previous paintings have included repetitive images of skulls; those have been abandoned here, and instead the metal touches are more subtle, including references to heavy metal band logos. It is easy to imagine a thumping, screeching metal soundtrack forming the musical accompaniment to Aldridge’s natural world: there is nothing delicate or pastoral here.

Prey, 2011, Watercolour on paper, 72.5 x 57.5 cm

The Black Plague, 2011, Watercolour on paper, 72.5 x 57.5 cm

As Aldridge reveals in the film below, which sees the artist in conversation with Charlie Woolley and offers an interesting insight into his work, he is aware of the ridiculousness at the heart of much heavy metal imagery, and this is no po-faced celebration of the medium. Humour exists elsewhere in the Poppy Sebire show too, particularly in a sculpture of a tree formed from wooden bird boxes, where Aldridge highlights the ludicrousness (and controlling ways) of human beings, in their need to cut down a bird’s natural habitat only to turn it into a little house for it to live in on our terms. Such an act seems especially futile in response to the natural world of Aldridge’s imagination, where human beings seem unlikely to stand much chance of survival.

Bloodlines by James Aldridge is on show at Poppy Sebire until November 12. More info is at

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