James Fenner is a young artist whose work nevertheless dwells in the hazy, melancholic territory of the past. A freelance illustrator and student at the Art Institute of Portland, Fenner’s deceptively simple tableaus reveal, upon further reflection, layers of storytelling and a multiplication of meanings.
To enter his world is to step into a half-remembered dream, whose precise details escape us, but which leaves us with unshakeable intimations of either doom or euphoria. The stars of these dreams are solitary wanderers through a medieval fairy tale landscape: dark woods, winding streams, lurking creatures and spirits. The stylized figures, themselves often adorned with mythological flourishes like antlers or horns, also resemble nothing more than the central characters of both our fairy tales and our dreams: that is, ourselves, as children, searching for a place of safety and solid identity in a terrifying world.
Indeed, Fenner seems to take solace in facing both his fears and his dreams through his art. In “Smultronstället” – meaning a “place of personal escape and relaxation” – a young girl takes refuge in a forest clearing. Elsewhere, his illustrations depict an alien abduction on a beach as well as being lost at sea. The natural ambiance of the Pacific Northwest seems to inhabit his aesthetic, with foggy mountains, towering pines, and crashing ocean scenes infusing his drawing.
Low fi and high tech are also combined to great effect to produce highly textured final products – Fenner will produces initial pencil sketches or oil paintings and then edit them digitally for a final rendering. Allusions and homages abound as well, and he reimagines scenes from works as disparate as Lord of the Flies and Breaking Bad. In one piece, a grown-up Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes, now tall and stylishly dressed, wanders a lonely city accompanied only by his protective tiger.
Like Calvin, Fenner would appear to be happiest inside his rich, imaginative daydreams – and all the better for the rest of us, who get to enjoy his artistic development.
Enjoy his art below, then click on the link to visit his site.
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