James Ferris: 5050 @ Limoncello – INTERVIEW & REVIEW
So here’s a novel idea: an exhibition of 100 paintings, with the first work to be sold and packed-up for £1, and each subsequent sale to be priced according to its place in the order of purchase – with the second buyer paying £2, the third £3, and so on until the last work goes for £100, and the gallery is empty. So goes the vision of emerging artist James Ferris in collaboration with Limoncello gallery, his exhibition ‘50/50’ now reduced to less than 20 works, after a hectically competitive opening night, and steady trade ever since.
Speaking to ArtLyst, Ferris explained how the idea for this exhibition has been ‘gradually warming’ as the almost inevitable product of ‘having a practice that over-produces’; unwilling to ‘either throw the work away, or to have a lot of storage space’, he concocted a third option – distribution – deciding that ‘it’s better that they go out into the world, and for the paintings to be functional in people’s lives’.
In Limoncello house style, Ferris’s paintings are of the faux naive genre, often exuding a slapdash energy, with boisterous brushwork, and a love of tasty colour. They have that feeling of mid-processdom, with Ferris admitting that ‘if I had kept hold of them then they would have turned into something else, adding other things possibly, and perhaps even painting over some of them’, and with these works declared finished ‘only because they are on the wall in an exhibition’.
Being third in line on the opening night (a little tragic, I know), I bought a work for £3. It depicts a crazy-slanting structure made up of orange, lemon, and lime coloured bubbles, standing on a loosely rendered dream horizon, encircled by brush-dabbed clouds. It vaguely feels like the product of George Condo’s painting style (in its looser moments), crossed with the fantasy landscape/architectural visions of Paul Noble. And, in its jarring composition and tangy wash of colours, it creates a joyful sense of chaotic topsy-turvyness. While abstract, it is untypically allusive to real space; but then again, as this exhibition clearly demonstrates, any efforts to identify the typical Ferris is deeply problematic. ‘I revel in inconsistency’, he tells us, offering up the manifest diversity of these hundred works as proof – from free-play Karla Black-esque colour splodges, to geometric plans, incorporating graphic texts.
For Ferris, the method of selling – with a pound by pound step-up in value according to the work’s place in the sale queue –, represents an ‘dumbed-down ABC version’ of the way that artwork normally accrues value over time, taking advantage of the fact that ‘when your work isn’t already in a price bracket you have the freedom to invent it’. But, equally, it was never meant as ‘an explicit critique of values’: ‘I was more interested in seeing how people reacted to the proposition’, Ferris explained, while ‘leaning on people’s desire to get a bargain – the excitement of “if I get there really early I can get something really cheaply”’, as the motor to ensure rapid distribution.
With the exhibition not scheduled to close until the 25 February 2012, the exhibition already ‘looks quite desperate because it’s so sparse’. But this, of course, is partly the point, with the initial buying frenzy inevitably being replaced by inertia come stock exhaustion. In this respect, Ferris was interested to see ‘how a show could function that kept standing on its feet without dancing the moves that it is expected to’, i.e. exhibiting works. Limoncello, it seems, is to become the site of something that happened; an empty shell to be witnessed. Words Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst