James Buckhouse

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Recently on view at Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles was a solo exhibition of new work by San Francisco based artist James Buckhouse. Projected onto the large, white gallery wall, Buckhouse presented a computer controlled animated video entitled DAY FOR NIGHT, along with selected still images from the video on display, presented as C-prints.

Recalling the imagery of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, DAY FOR NIGHT is made up of a looping sequence of hand-drawn images in black and white that depict scenes of urban dwellers mid-sidewalk strut or coffee sip, in a similarly contradicting manner of casually-staged. Just as Sherman depicted herself through her photographs decades ago in the role of film siren or damsel in distress, seemingly caught in mid-action, Buckhouse’s drawings- compiled into the animation- depict a contemporary cast of youngurbanites as they drift through their lives of obscures plot lines around the world, mulling over mundane events and interacting with one another. Sometimes they partake in more exciting adventures like car chases orHitchcockian drives down dark, tree canopied country roads.

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Interspersed among the images of the people are Buckhouse’s hand-drawn renditions of horses and a few of his lightly colorful watercolor pieces from previous bodies of work, all working together to create a video piece that invites the viewer to enjoy it, rather than cast a cloud of self-doubt and utter confusion over the viewer, as many contemporary video works unfortunately tend to do.

DAY FOR NIGHT reads hazily as a narrative. Each image is accompanied by a silent-film-like line of text, or perceived dialog, though the phrases are actually inconsequential to one another, as Buckhouse has derived them from various unrelated outlets and thrown them in in random order. Though the narrative seems to unfold somewhat logically each time you watch the video, the film re-edits itself with each loop, causing the images to be rearranged in order and become aligned with new text each time they are shown. One could view the video a dozen times in a row and essentially watch a different story unfold each time. The result is an often comical pairing of serendipitous text and image, such as a drawing of a stylish couple sitting in front of a graffittied urban backdrop, shown alongside the phrase “Ugly thing, chasing fashion”. Sometimes the text makes little or no sense with the accompanying image. Such is the random playfulness of DAY FOR NIGHT that adds to the fun of watching it, and reminds viewers of the vague flashes of our own daily life that unfold around us as we bustle around busily, not paying much attention to anything else.

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The humor of the text, combined with the accessibility of the imagery, creates a hypnotizing longing for what will come next. Whereas statistics state that any given work of art is only looked at for 3 seconds by the average viewer, one would be hard-pressed to turn away that quickly from this easily addictive piece. An interesting addition to that conversation, however, is the fact that the video is made up of small glimpses of “works of art”, so in reality the piece is in keeping with the statistics of our Attention Deficit Disorder art-viewing society. Buckhouse has found a loophole by using looped imagery.

Buckhouse’s hand drawn animations solicit the surprised reaction from the viewer that such a craft still exists, and remind us just how impeccably it can be executed. While we usually take for granted a simple animation of a trotting horse, Buckhouse is so pure in his rendering that each subtle movement of mane or muscle becomes its own delicate masterpiece, again reminding the viewer both of the subtle nuances that surround us in life, as well as the beauty of a craft well done.

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James Buckhouse lives and works in San Francisco, CA. He was born in Logan, UT, received his BA from Brown University, and was a Visiting Artist at the Stanford University Digital Art Center from 1999 – 2001. He was a 2002 Whitney Biennial artist, exhibiting his piece Tap. His work has also been exhibited at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, OR; Foxy Production, New York, NY; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, England, among others. Buckhouse’s work has been reviewed in the New York Times and USA Today.