American multimedia artist James Stanford has earned an international reputation for an innovative and diverse oeuvre founded on the values of artistic experimentation and meditative practice. Working inventively in a wide range of media and genres, Stanford is celebrated today for his pictorial orchestrations drawing primarily upon the iconic vintage signage of Las Vegas. This subject matter ties into a long-term interest in the study and transformation of popular culture from the region, most widely known in the abstract meditative reconfigurations in his Lenticular works (2016-2019), the Indra’s Jewels series (1998-2015) and the prismatic Shimmering Zen series (2016-2019).
These images are widely recognized for a sense of radiant light, shadowy space and an infinity of crystalline forms, aptly named modern mandalas. And so, while Stanford may pull images from popular culture as a whole the artist’s work responds to esoteric interests, visual expressions of religiosity and spirituality, Zen Buddhism, and metaphysical concepts, including the creation of illusionistic fictive space. The artist describes his approach and the transformation of Las Vegas signage within his process: “I feel that through the alchemy of seeing the beauty in these discarded signs, I am able to transform the profane into the sacred. The Shimmering Zen series is more than formal compositions of abstractions that don’t really mean anything. These works are part of my practice: meditations, and as such they act as guides to help the viewer gaze deeper into who we really are. Popular culture can teach us all a lot about who we really are and show us our correct relationship to the universe.”
Stanford’s collaborative spirit and fluidity of imagination allows the artist to work in many mediums. His practice includes photography both traditional and digital, assemblage, lenticulars and projections, installations, videos, painting, drawing, muralism and textiles as well. In 2018, fashion designer David Tupaz was so intrigued by the works pictured in Stanford’s Shimmering Zen book that he asked the artist to create scarves and last year the designer’s New York Fashion Week runway show was inspired by Stanford’s work and featured a projection as well of Stanford’s creation. This year Stanford premiered a new series of extraordinary silk scarves made by the same Italian manufacturer who produces Hermès scarves and featuring artwork from the Shimmering Zen and Indra’ Jewels series in conjunction with Tupaz’ SS19 line at Style Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week.
On an entirely different scale, Stanford’s new mural project titled A Phalanx of Angels Ascending premieres in June 2019. This 2,000 square foot mural too incorporates the world of neon signs, photography and illusory space.
The work is inspired by Our Lady of Las Vegas by Betty Willis’ seventeen-foot Blue Angel statue dismantled from East Fremont Street and currently undergoing restoration at the Neon Museum. Stanford’s interpretation was created digitally and incorporates new images of angels including angels on a half shell and rocket angels as well. This large-scale work will include all four sides of The 705 building and will be executed by the famed street artist Cliff Airbrushing.
This project represents an evolution of form for Stanford who in the mid-eighties studied fresco painting with the renown masters Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Pope Dimitroff, former assistants to Diego Rivera. Processes of transformation, multiplicity and the concept of the artistic image as an object of contemplation converge in this project, reflecting the artist’s unique approach to making work that functions as a meditative practice centered around the creative transformation of the profane into the sacred.
Indeed, in every series and new experimental genre, Stanford creates work that is in part a meditation. There is in Stanford’s modern mandalas a dissembled and reworked dance of balance and imbalance that contemplatively engages the viewer, creating symbiotically a dialogue about value found within tension found in opposites.
Stanford studied painting at the University of Washington (UW) (MFA) and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) (BFA). Select solo exhibitions include Sahara West Library, Las Vegas, 2018, Asian Art in London, London, 2017 and the Shimmering Zen, City Hall public installation, City of Las Vegas, 2017-present. Stanford’s work in found in numerous international private collections in the United States and the United Kingdom as well as the Clark County Public Library, Las Vegas and the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas among others.
In addition to his artistic career, Stanford has taught at UNLV and UW, established the Smallworks Gallery, and curated exhibitions at various venues, including the Las Vegas Contemporary Arts Center. During his tenure as Las Vegas Arts Commissioner, the artist developed Lightscapes a program that has been recognized by Art in America as one of the top 20 public art projects. In addition, Stanford is an independent book publisher heading Smallworks Press which features books on arts and culture such as Street Art Las Vegas, Motel Vegas and Compass of the Ephemeral with distribution through Independent Publishers Group (IPG).
The artist currently lives and works in Las Vegas. Additional work by Stanford can be viewed at JamesStanfordArt.com.
- Rosa JH Berland