Living in a culture that is dominated by images and the visual, it is important for us as citizens to understand the ways images function and how they can impact subjectivities. Images and pictures are not static entities, but carry with them a certain agency. I use painting to consider both contemporary and historical forms of this apparent “agency” in efforts to study its use and efficacy. To this end, I have been looking at branches of cognitive science and emergent image theory to understand how images work on our psychology. In large part, this study is complimented by also looking at historical conceptions of image agency within the “Western esoteric” traditions such as alchemy, the art of memory, and astrology.


For the last couple years I have been working with images from the Warburg Institute’s Iconographic Database to consider the ways in which imagery was historically linked with cognitive processes. I’ve been really interested in how monastic cultures or other “Western esoteric traditions” such as alchemy and hermeticism used certain astrological images to help along small cognitive tasks like memorization, or symbol building. Looking closer, it gets quite strange as these astrological images get tied into subjects like astral magic, Neoplatonist philosophy, and liturgical practice. The function of image here becomes one with agency and heuristic use. In a lot of ways my paintings are ways to explore these historical image functions to see if I can still find ways to make use of these techniques on a cognitive level and within contemporary contexts. Images from my research are used in the studio as sites for experimental processes using methodology from my research. Favoring duration, images are repeatedly deconstructed and recombined making nods to the legacy of collage while also referencing medieval mnemonic and alchemical procedures. Finished works are often multiple image fragments fused to form completely new images to be used in my developing heuristic schemes.



Gardner has received multiple awards including The Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council Emerging Artist Grants, the TFVA’s Artist Prize, and The Canada Council for the Arts Project Grant. Recently Gardner received the prestigious Canadian Master’s Scholarship (SSHRC) and the William Blair Bruce European Fine Art Travel Scholarship. Gardner was nominated for the 2014 RBC Painting Competition. Recent exhibitions include Vessels and Broods (MFA Gallery, Montreal QC), and SYZYGY (McClure Gallery, Montreal QC).  


James Gardner was born in Kitchener Ontario, Canada in 1983. Growing up in Southern Ontario, Gardner completed his B.A. in Studio Art and Art History at the University of Guelph in 2008. From 2010-2017 Gardner lived and worked in Toronto where he helped found and run the collective and artist run centre VSVSVS. Gardner recently completed his MFA at Concordia University in 2020. Gardner lives and works in Montreal, QC, Canada. 

James Gardner 

Montreal QC, Canada 

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James Gardner