Janell James in Southwest Art

Modern classics

This story was featured in the November 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine.

For 10 years, classically trained artist Janell James painted “very traditionally” in oils. To create luminosity in her paintings, she applied multiple layers and glazes to her surfaces. “But I really didn’t want to do the status quo,” she says. “I started to take the techniques of traditional realism, like my layering and glazing process, and put it on a modern platform.”

For the past several years, the Utah artist has been painting in acrylics on layered acrylic glass panes—five of them, to be exact. She meticulously paints an image on the front and back of each panel, one by one, and then stacks them all together, leaving an eighth of an inch of space between them. The result, says the artist, is a three-dimensional sculptural painting that reflects the light within the environment where it hangs. In this way, the imagery in her paintings comes to life, says James. “It wouldn’t be sculpture without the spaces between the panes. It invites the light from the outside to come into the painting, so the work itself takes on its own expression. It’s also kinetic in nature, as light shifts and casts shadows on it.”

Trees have long been a muse for James, a lifelong nature enthusiast, and they are a recurrent theme in the paintings she creates today. Usually, says the artist, her ideas begin with a road trip, a hiking adventure, or a camping excursion. “I take photographs of trees and then bring them home and create my compositions, exploring different colorations,” she says. “I use my images as a jumping-off point to express the tree individually through the painting.” —Kim Agricola