James Aldridge takes on themes of nature, landscape and mortality in works that are simultaneously beautiful and disturbing, fascinating and repulsive. Aldridge’s work is inspired by his immediate environment, the forests of Småland in Southern Sweden and the music he listens to - extreme Heavy Metal.
For his second solo exhibition at Galerie Gabriel Rolt, he will present paintings, watercolors and a new series of his modified bird boxes. In the selection and hanging of the works, the show sees Aldridge taking a more installational approach to create an atmosphere that is strange and darkly humorous, immersing the viewer within his landscapes and objects.
Birds feature throughout Aldridge's practice. His fascination with them began as a child, making drawings from his father's collection of bird-watching books, and they have since become carriers for many of the themes addressed in his work. The likes of crows, owls, magpies recur throughout the paintings and cutouts, each bringing its own associations and symbolic qualities as well as a rich aesthetic beauty. The birds exist in landscapes of thorns, branches, coils of smoke and other animals, like stags. The human presence comes as skulls and bones - never as living beings. It is loaded and intense imagery, its excessiveness working as a means of reclaiming the cliché; of reinvesting these potent symbols with their true meaning. Hence, the grotesqueness and horror that appears in these images offers a sense of nature's reality: that it is a cycle of life and death; one that can be cruel. The new paintings see Aldridge taking his compositions into more dense and delirious realms. There is at once an epic scale in the drama, movement and detail as well as claustrophobia within the picture plane. Despite the violent and dark ingredients, the paintings are unquestionably beautiful - there is a visual fascination in their sense of movement, the layering of forms and unpredictability of each composition.
The bird boxes are found objects, which have been altered by Aldridge. Named 'Holk', after the Swedish word for nesting box, they represent another form of humans attempting to impose their own standards on nature; in this case, the idea of birds living in houses. One box is the shape of a church and Aldridge has inverted the cross, which hangs over its door. Another has been charred with fire and had fat long nails hammered out of each wall. Metal music and its surrounding culture inform much of Aldridge's practice and here there is a connection to the Black metal subculture whose anti-everything attitude is manifested in homemade wristbands impaled with nails. Metal music is often considered dumb, clichéd, over-the-top, though its sincerity, directness and creative ambition - not to mention, its wealth of extreme imagery - make for a direct influence on Aldridge's work.
James Aldridge (Farnborough UK, 1971) lives and works in Sweden. He has had recent solo exhibitions in Madrid, Wellington and London. His commissioned painting 'Cold Mouth Prayer' has been on display at the Tate Modern since 2007. James Aldridge studied at the Royal College of Art in London and Manchester Metropolitan University.