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24 July 2012
James Wilkins: In Search of Spiritual Light
The American photographer makes his first visit to Singapore, and Bukit Brown Cemetery is his first ‘port of call’.
45-year-old New Yorker James Wilkins is not only an accomplished commercial photographer with published works in The New York Times and Architectural Digest, his fine arts photography, which often employs nature to explore such issues as ‘isolation’ and the ‘burden’ and ‘blessings’ of spiritual gifts, has gained him a cult following in the States; his work has also been held in collections alongside the likes of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Vik Muniz.
In his art, Wilkins constantly seeks out a ‘spiritual connectedness’ with his subject, a direction that results in a highly stylised, dreamlike aesthetic; many times, he is drawn simply to the light on an object.
“I tend to think of my work as being very much inspired by my spiritual condition, my spiritual aspirations and my spiritual goals,” says Wilkins, who is currently in Singapore (and Asia) for the first time to present an exhibition titled ORIGINS – a series of unique photographs that addresses the relationship between the environment, spirituality and beauty.
The photographer was invited by Gallery R, which was – incredibly – conceived less than 2 months ago by a 7-year-old boy from Singapore called Rohinish Gupta, who had seen in the Wilkins’ work the power to raise awareness of environmental issues.
Besides the exhibition, another purpose of Wilkins’ visit is to obtain inspiration and material in Singapore and Asia for a new photographic series, titled EXTINCTION.
His first stop is Singapore’s historic Bukit Brown Cemetery, part of which will soon be exhumed to make way for new roads.
“The [first visit] was a really powerful experience. It was very moving, very inspiring… It was really immense for me and I look forward to going back,” says Wilkins.
“To me, it’s about getting close to [the subject matter], getting to know it better and better… it’s all about intimacy and understanding the essence of something.
“It’s funny, I already have concepts rolling through my mind for certain pieces,” says Wilkins, referring to the Bukit Brown project. “For example, with the images of the trees… as you look up you can feel the souls flying through them… [the trees] could possibly serve as a backdrop for one of the pieces.”
Wilkins is very much inspired by modernist movements of the 20th century and often thinks and works in the abstract. He shares, however, that he is now beginning to look beyond "minimal compositions" to explore different subject combinations. And just like a painting, each piece of photographic work is virtually impossible to replicate.
“Every choice I make, every wavelength that I push through is the same thing the painter is doing with a brush stroke and canvas,” says Wilkins, adding that none of the processes are recorded.
Wilkins also diligently sources for his own inks, and employs unique printing techniques, all of which have never been seen in Asia, such as polished and burnished silver foil prints, as well as direct prints on aluminium, which emit a glint-like illuminating effect.
The Persistence of Transformation
ORIGINS will be held from 27 – 29 July at The Arts House, Old Parliament House, and part of the proceeds will go the World Wide Fund for Nature. The exhibits will continue to be displayed at The Fullerton Hotel from 2 August – 16 September 2012. For more information, visit galleryr.com.sg.