An ode to pre-pandemic nightlife and queer spaces, James Bartolacci returns with a new set of paintings

While creating his latest pieces, James started off by asking each of his subjects to choose an outfit they’d usually wear to go out. Reminiscent of dressing up for the evening that awaits, James also wanted them to choose two colours for the lighting, “hoping to recreate the lighting conditions of nightclubs.” Besides giving the choice to his subjects as to how they wanted to present themselves and their environment, the main aim with this request was to make the setting as intimate as possible.
Shifting gears, James started painting the scenes of his friends’ bedrooms, a steer away from the usual four walls of a club. And by doing so, he’s managed to evoke deeper sense of intimacy; a closer connection between both himself, his subject and with his medium. “I want my paintings to tell stories that are about the present,” he explains. “It used to be that I would go to a party and then make a painting about it, but I didn’t want my new work to feel only nostalgic for pre-pandemic partying. I wanted to expand the work beyond the dance floor.” His reasons for painting the bedroom arose naturally, having spent the majority of the past year in his very own. This particular space beholds many universal connotations, too, for it’s the space of rest, calm, individuality and intimacy. For James (and many), it’s where his nights begin and end, both in the context of getting ready and with coming home alone or in company of another.
The Last Night, for example, sees James replicate the last party held at the Spectrum in Brooklyn before it closed down in 2019 – a piece that contrasts with his current pandemic bedroom scenes. There’s a large group of party-goers letting loose on a dance floor. A disco ball shines above, while the luminescent rays of greens, blues and pinks light up the moving bodies. Hugging, arms waving, closeness; these interactions feel so alien right now it’s hard to believe that a year ago this was the most ubiquitous thing to do. “It’s my favourite painting not only because it depicts my favourite queer venue and the joy of going out, but because it includes all the things I’m interested in and have been slowly finessing over time in painting – colour, lighting, fashion, community and architecture.” While creating this specific piece, James had called out to some people who were also at the party whom later shared some photographs from the evening. He then collaged these pieces on Photoshop and formed a new composition, while making up the figures entirely. “the intense colour saturation was created by slowly building up layers of thin oil glazing.”
James’s Life Without Night will be on show at Taymour Grahne Projects, London, from 19 June – 14 July 2020.
While the world still grapples with the pandemic, nightlife is undeniably one of those that’s been hard hit. Even if James has more than enjoyed the Zoom parties on Club Quarantine – likened for the fact that he could meet people from across the world, not just those who live in big cities – it’s a place that has been (and still is) sorely missed, especially within the queer community. “My paintings come from my personal experiences and interactions, but I hope that they resonate most with those who participate in queer nightlife,” he adds. “I try to capture the range and complexity of these spaces rather than just a joyous night of fun. That’s important, but it’s not the only story to be told.”