The Poetic Life of the Lowly Eel
Extended through June 19, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JAMES PROSEK: Walk in the Woods
March 5 – May 22, 2015
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 5, 2015 | 6PM-8PM
Leslie Feely in association with Schwartz • Wajahat is pleased to present James Prosek: Walk in the Woods on view March 5 – May 2, 2015. This exhibition, curated by Waqas Wajahat, will feature new paintings, watercolors, sculptures, taxidermied hybrids and a wall mural created specifically for this installation. The mural is based on the artist’s project on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. To watch a time lapse video of the making of the Smithsonian mural, please visit the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdyaCxVhwXI
James Prosek’s practice is inspired by the long tradition in art history of depicting nature—starting with paintings of animals deep within the caves of Lascaux and Altamira to detailed drawings of animals by Albrecht Dürer. The artist’s influences are wide-ranging, from John James Audubon to Winslow Homer; from Milton Avery, Lee Bontecou to Martin Puryear and Maurizio Cattelan. Prosek’s paintings and sculptures combine an 18th- and 19th-century sensibility with contemporary ethos, addressing our environmental concerns in a world where we are losing natural diversity faster than we can discover it.
The works range from realistic to fanciful, art and artifact in one, though all are rendered with meticulous precision and detail—many of them referencing the artist’s extensive travel, collecting trips, and biological expeditions to places as distant and diverse as South America, Central Asia and Micronesia. Exquisitely crafted, frequently witty, and always thought-provoking, Prosek’s work invites viewers to engage with realms that science cannot quantify or solve—those spaces in between fact and folklore, science and myth, real and imagined.
The artist’s hybrid paintings reach into the realm of pop art and surrealism, combining different species into a single, imagined creature. Flying Squirrels, for instance, merges the bodies of squirrels with wings from quails. By reimagining a flying squirrel to literally become the name that humans gave it, the artist pokes fun at the rigidity of traditional systems we use to classify nature. “It becomes its name in protest of being named, rejecting our attempts to control nature through language,” says Prosek. Other works in the exhibition are commentaries on modern conservation practices. “We tend to protect creatures that are useful to us, so these creatures have evolved to be useful in order to survive,” the artist notes. One such “tool creature,” entitled Industrial Evolution, is a beaver with a chainsaw chain around its tail.
In 2013, James Prosek spent several months in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, a trip that resulted in works devoted to bringing needed attention to Africa’s dwindling wildlife. Among them, a monumental depiction of an African elephant now in the collection of the US Department of State is currently on view at the US Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. James Prosek: Walk in the Woods includes a large work on panel of a white rhinoceros surrounded by silhouettes of indigenous birds and fauna. Only a few thousand southern white rhinos remain in the wild.
James Prosek is self-taught as a painter. In addition to being an artist, he is a naturalist and the author of several books. His work has been shown extensively including the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. His documentary film The Mystery of Eels based on his book, debuted on the PBS series Nature in 2013. Upcoming solo exhibitions include the Vero Beach Museum of Art in Florida (June 2015), and the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh NC (March 2015). A graduate of Yale University, the artist lives and works in rural Easton, Connecticut.