If You Ever Leave Me I’m Coming With You, the latest solo exhibition from pop artist James McQueen has opened to the public at Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair, displaying a new body of artwork using vintage Penguin Book covers as a starting point for bold and satirical paintings.
The titles and sentiments on the book covers are evocative, playful and sometimes cynical. Working under a pseudonym, McQueen introduces an autobiographical dimension to the work with his trademark monkey, using this mischievous character as a kind of personal insignia.
McQueen remains an enigma in the art world, painting under a pseudonym since 2017. He explains:
Keeping behind the mask enables me to enjoy the creative process without being concerned about praise or recognition. I enjoy what I do and don’t want that to change or to be changed through judgement. I want my art to speak for itself.
In spite of his anonymity, McQueen’s paintings are deeply personal, expressive and revealing. At the heart of McQueen’s work is the classic Penguin Books cover design from 1935. McQueen has adopted this design as the fundamental template in almost all of his work, yielding a huge range of possibilities in spite of its strict parameters.
In creating his art, McQueen applies paint in abundance through numerous layers that, once dried, are sanded down, creating a coarse aesthetic that evokes the wear and tear of vintage books. Often the surfaces are covered with lacquer to add extra richness and vibrancy.
McQueen’s initial interest in Penguin books was inspired by his grandfather who had a large collection. “He would often read them to me, but I was more interested in the way they looked,” recalls McQueen.
Exploring themes of Pop Art and abstraction, McQueen’s complex application of paint elevates his art beyond the mere imitation of a nostalgic object towards an art that is rich and expressive. He represents the books not as they were when first published, but as they are today: stained and faded with annotations and tattered edges.
McQueen’s unique techniques reflect aging and decay as the books are passed down from one owner to another, including fingerprints marks, rings from tea mugs, missing corners, dishevelled spines and scribblings from readers.
I want to create that wear and tear, that authenticity. It’s easy to do something clean. It’s easy to do something with straight lines. It’s much harder to make something look old and tired.
These domestic touches are starkly and comically contrasted with the bold and provocative titles that are a feature of his work, such as Too Cool To Give A Fuck, Oh Bollocks, and Give Me Solutions Not Fucking Problems.
Collectors choose these pieces because the quote resonates with them,says McQueen.
It’s something they can look at every day, as if it is a book on their shelf.
As well as with the books from his grandfather’s collection, McQueen is inspired by artistic traditions over the decades including Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism as embodied by the likes of Ed Rusha, Damien Hirst, Banksy, Warhol and Harland Millar. By reimaging elements of other works and combining them with his own images and his unique style, McQueen creates original works of art.
Over the last year, McQueen has produced the most experimental, complex and varied paintings of his entire oeuvre, and this exhibition highlights his new, ground-breaking techniques while breaking new ground in the range of possibilities that can be achieved through the Penguin cover motif. This exhibition is only the latest in the unfolding story of this unique artist.
If You Ever Leave Me I’m Coming with You runs from 15th November 2023 – 7th January 2024 at Halcyon Gallery, 148 New Bond Street, London W1S 2RL.
About the artist
Born in 1977, James McQueen is a British artist based between London and New York. Operating under a pseudonym, he has created paintings publicly as James McQueen since 2017.
McQueen’s art is born from his admiration of vintage books, amassing a collection before deciding to develop the cover designs into paintings.
These literary-inspired paintings are rooted in the Pop Art of the mid-1950s and 60s. McQueen’s art appropriates the design and branding of an inexpensive, mass-produced and consumed product to echo Andy Warhol’s appropriated imagery in the Campbell’s Soup paintings. Like Warhol, McQueen celebrates the everyday product by making these book covers monumental and vibrant.
The impact of these works is not only visual but conceptual. McQueen communicates a variety of messages through the titles of his paintings and their carefully selected typography. Frequently their tone is provocative, comic and cynical. While humour is a key feature of his work, McQueen has also used his paintings for social and political comment, responding to what is current and popular on the national and international scene, from climate change and the NHS to football and James Bond.
2023 IF YOU EVER LEAVE ME, I’M COMING WITH YOU, Halcyon Gallery, London, UK
2022 YOU DON’T KNOW THE HALF OF IT, Halcyon Gallery, London, UK
2022 Group Exhibition at Halcyon Gallery, Halcyon Gallery, London, UK
2022 High Fidelity, Halcyon Gallery, London, UK
About Halcyon Gallery
With forty years of experience working with contemporary artists and in the acquisition of modern masters, Halcyon Gallery is committed to building distinguished art collections, placing works of the highest quality.
Halcyon Gallery has a long-standing passion for philanthropy and is responsible for numerous fundraising initiatives within the public sector. The Gallery works with charities and non-profit organisations, including The Royal Parks Foundation and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award World Fellowship. It has also been the driving force for a ground-breaking series of public sculpture placements worldwide, from London’s Hyde Park to the Grand Canal in Venice, the courtyard of the State Hermitage in Saint Petersburg and Shanghai’s financial district.