“My affinity for the color black started when I started growing into myself,” states James Bixler. “I realized recently that my attraction to the color noir was because it is a grounding, calming color. It should come to no one’s surprise that I utilize black in most of my artwork.”
Included here is a self-portrait that shows Bixler emerging from liquid black; inky, impenetrable, and leaving a film on his skin, the image recalls at least one famous portrait of an African American immersed in milk, - a negative reversal of sorts. It somewhat obfuscates racial identity, blurring the lines of pigmentation by removing color and forcing the viewer to rely on the supple tones and textures of the black, white, and gray tones of the photographic medium.
The play of the viscous black liquid on Bixler’s skin also reminds us that he is a Tattoo Artist at Uncle Bob's Tattoo Studio and Body Piercing in Clarksville, Indiana. It should not be surprising that a working tattoo artist would study fine art, since the medium, once considered, at best, subversive, or, at worst, cheap and trashy, has become more and more accepted in the mainstream culture, with 1 in 5 Americans sporting one or more examples of skin art, and tattoo parlors now as likely as not including a gallery space.
The dense black also dominates Bixler’s upside down Ouija board print, which, alongside his drawing of a gracefully ‘unraveling’ human skull, is suggestive of the occult, and a preoccupation with the ephemeral spirit that once resided in the latter, and may communicate with us through the former; themes of identity and mortality that never feel exhausted because there is never a definitive answer.
Hometown: Scottsburg, Kentucky
Education: BFA candidate, Painting and Drawing, Kentucky College of Art and Design (KyCAD), Spalding University, Louisville, Kentucky
Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2016 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.