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ARTS

Art brings faith into focus BY JOHN COHEN-DU FOUR

Traditional techniques From 2012-14 David was head of NMIT’s entire Creative Industries programme. “But I had this growing need to create a specialised space – for exhibitions, but also for art learning focusing strongly on traditional technique.” When the right building became available David made his move, setting up Atelier as a not-for-profit organisation to best ensure it would achieve its two main outcomes. “The gallery’s purpose,” he explains, “is to provide opportunities for people to engage with contemporary visual art created by established and emerging artists of faith.” David is quick to distance this from the kitsch, one dimensional ‘Christian art’ that serves an evangelical agenda. Above: David James with Mine Eyes, 2019 (work in progress), graphite, ink, and shellac on Fabriano 300gsm paper 94

Photo: Dominique White

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ne year ago this month David James opened Atelier on the corner of Trafalgar Square and Selwyn Place. The space features an everchanging gallery of exhibiting artists, and is also a busy learning studio. David is no slouch when it comes to educating artists. He has served our region well since arriving in Nelson as a teenager in the ’90s to complete his Diploma in Visual Arts at NMIT. He worked as an NMIT technician and curator for its art collection, before becoming a tutor, teaching everything from drawing to painting, photography to video. From 2005-2007, while still working full-time as a tutor, David earned his Master’s Degree with First Class Honours through Auckland’s AUT, creating a video installation entitled ‘Non-Space’. “It was about the spaces in life often considered devoid of meaning,” he recalls, “areas transitory by nature, like stairways or subways.” An interesting choice given David’s attraction to art that serves to bring faith into focus.

“… currently overseas there’s this big upsurge in the Atelier approach, where students hone their essential art skills.” DAV I D JA M E S

“Art is meant to nourish the soul,” he says. “Contemporary artists of faith offer a unique voice and authentic expression that engages and explores the diverse issues and themes of life informed by their individual experience and personal relationship to God. “It might be messy, emotional or political. It could be challenging, beautiful, highly personal. It may not sit easily with religious types, even upset the status quo, but it also offers moments of illumination. Whatever narrative the artist explores, or responds to, is an essential and necessary perspective to engage with. “And it allows conversation,” he adds. Atelier’s other primary focus is its studio, where David’s teaching background comes to the fore.

Honing drawing skills “Modern learning establishments have tended to focus on art’s ‘creative process’ – the flow from idea to exploration to production,” he says. “But currently overseas there’s this big upsurge in the

Atelier approach, where students hone their essential art skills. “This predominantly means drawing – developing awareness of modeling light and dark, understanding tonal planes, and the importance of accuracy and observation.” The Studio offers mid-week art classes, arts mentoring, intensive Arts Incubator workshops and a collaborative space in which to create. It is one of the few places in the region where students can regularly draw from the human figure – a rich tradition in the development of drawing technique. David hopes to take things even further. “I envisage providing a one-year ‘Academy Programme’ that grounds the teaching in practice, where students learn right alongside the tutor doing it with them. After all, this was the standard vocational practice for European artists from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.” One thing seems certain – Atelier’s students have both David and history on their side.

Profile for WildTomato

WildTomato June 2019  

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WildTomato June 2019  

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