Studio visit: James Little

James Panero, New Criterion, May 3, 2013

James Little paints like no other artist. His unique wax medium and labor-intensive process have developed over decades in the studio. Recently, I visited him in his walk-up space in East Williamsburg to see his latest work before it heads out to June Kelly Gallery, where his next solo show will open on May 16. (All photographs by James Panero)


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In her catalogue essay for the upcoming exhibition, Karen Wilkin writes of the "ravishing physicality of Little's paintings . . . orchestrations of geometry and chroma to delight our eyes and stir our emotions and intellect." 


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Reading the paintings from left to right, Little employs a rhythmic sense of composition. Shapes, colors, and values all work together to energize the paintings.   


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Drawings line the upper walls of the studio. 


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The drawings often become studies for larger paintings, although the colors change as Little adds wax and other media to the canvas. 

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Little's process requires constant adjustments and an attention to detail. Given the time he puts into each work, he may only create four large paintings a year.  


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Writing about the "hard-edge" quality of his previous exhibition at June Kelly, I noticed that "while Little constructs his compositions in sharp angles and straight lines, his silk-like treatment of surface is uniquely his own." 


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To ensure purity and consistency, Little prepares his paint components by hand. 

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Jars of the artist's own turpentine and oil line the studio. 

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Little takes commercial pigments and mixes them before adding his own medium. 

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Much of his studio is dedicated to the mixing of paints.


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When the paints are ready, Little adds heated beeswax.


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He then appies this encaustic to canvas laid flat like a table.


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Little draws from a long history of pattern-making, from non-Western sources to Renaissance tilework to neon streetsigns.  

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The silky finish of the encaustic, combined with the precision of the lines, adds to the work's unique attraction.   

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Postcards of exhibitions line the studio door. The 2005 exhibition "Thorton Willis/James Little: Raising the Bar" at Sideshow Gallery, Brooklyn, introduced me to Little's "sensuous surfaces of silk and quicksand, and colors as sharp as needles."


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The latest work will be on view at June Kelly Gallery from May 16 through June 21, 2013. 


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