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james boulton
 Feb 2008 by richard speer

Painter James Boulton’s restless, irreverent abstractions are the product of a peripatetic life and wide-ranging artistic influences. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 32 years ago, Boulton later moved to New Orleans, upstate New York, back to New Mexico, and then to Portland, Oregon, before settling in Los Angeles, where he now lives and paints. His latest body of work, Boolean Logic, which will be shown in March at Pulliam Deffenbaugh in Portland, finds the artist synthesizing his teeming, wildly eclectic pastiches with a more reductive sensibility imparted during his MFA studies at Claremont Graduate University.

The upcoming Portland show is significant as both a return to the city where he cut his teeth as a painter, and a turning point toward more universal concerns. “The influence of the Northwest,” he says, “has set me apart a bit from artists who grew up in Los Angeles. There’s a sort of underground ‘DIY’ approach I learned in the warehouse-and-basement world of Portland, which is pretty readable in the work I do, not just in terms of what I’m thinking about conceptually, but down to the technical means of how I apply paint to a surface.”

Those surfaces, with their rough-and-tumble textures and Cy Twombly-like scribbles, update Abstract Expressionist underpinnings with a Gen X/Y obsession with graphic design, comic books, and graffiti tagging. The works’ acid-rock-meets-hiphop exuberance, along with Boulton’s penchant for winky titles (Shark Attacks and Crack Cocaine, Cheerios in Space), project a devil-may-care attitude that belies the artist’s penchant for ruthless aesthetic inquiry and self-analysis. In 2005, when he left misty, pedestrian-friendly Portland for sunny, smoggy Southern California, he was fascinated by his new home’s auto-centric commuter culture and began addressing this phenomenon in his painting. The urban landscape of downtown L.A., where his current studio is located, has also seeped into his work, imparting a grittier, looser, and more violently expressive quality. Today, three years after arriving in L.A., he says his “relationship to the landscape here is a lot more comfortable” than it was initially, a comfort that has enabled him to move from a contrast-based modus operandi to a more inwardly focused one.

The work earmarked for the new show has its origins in Boulton’s studies at Claremont, in particular the syntactical approach he came to adopt toward abstract forms. “One of the things that happened was that I realized that everything I was doing was much more linguistic than I had been aware of. The energy came from juxtaposing languages and forms.”

In paintings such as Codex B and Codex C, Boulton overlays the Euclidean language of circles, squares, and triangles with spray-painted scrawls from a more contemporary idiom. He takes a similar tack in the Matisse-referencing Codex A, leaving the viewer to decide whether his aim is homage, satire, or subversion. While the current pieces are no less kinetic than earlier work, they are notably more elemental in their visual vocabulary. Says the painter: “I’m going through a process of paring down and reducing the cacophany. Whereas in the past I might have used six or seven different applications to achieve an effect, lately I’ve been using three or four. I’m still getting a dissonant voice, but with a lot more economy.”

“James Boulton: Boolean Logic: New Paintings” runs from March 5–29, 2008 at Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery, 929 NW Flanders St., Portland, OR 503) 228-6665

Feb 2008 by richard speer

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