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Using archives and image databases, my practice looks to medieval and premodern documents to consider the ways in which images can be linked with cognitive processes. Lately I’ve been really interested in how certain “Western esoteric traditions” such as alchemy and astrology use mnemonic images and figures to help along cognitive tasks like oration, liturgical practice, or symbol building. Looking closer, it gets quite strange as these mnemonic systems get tied into subjects like astral magic, hermetic philosophy, and even contemporary neuroscience. Here, the function of image becomes one with agency and bears a heuristic use. In short: images help us build our subjectivities. I make paintings in order to explore this apparent image-agency while investigating the image’s innate ability to manifest new forms of knowledge and experience. When interpreting and producing images in this way, the task becomes not only understanding what an image represents, but also how it can be used.  


In the studio, found images from my growing “esoteric image archive” of mnemonic images and symbols are used as sites for experimental techniques culled from my research. Favoring duration, painted imagery is repeatedly deconstructed and recombined. These approaches make nods to the legacy of collage and assemblage while also referencing monastic mnemonic strategies and transformative alchemical procedures. As imagery is reconfigured, historical iconography becomes (re)inscribed with new symbolic meanings and subjective resonances. Finished paintings are composed of multiple image fragments fused together to form completely new images that are used in my developing cognitive/heuristic schemes.  This painting method creates large amounts of debris and dross. These cast-offs slowly accumulate to become sculptural aggregates of images, or what I call “image-matter.” These forms, as well as geological materials and other ephemera from the studio, often accompany the paintings in exhibition contexts. These painting-based installations mimic architectural and geologic phenomenon in order to allude to the material polarity of growth and decay of both site and image.


Born in Kitchener Canada, James Gardner currently lives in Montreal, having just graduated from the MFA program at Concordia University. His recent solo exhibitions include Syzygy at McClure Gallery (Montreal 2018), Vessels and Broods at Concordia’s MFA Gallery (Montreal 2020), and To Climb A Tall Pine, Galerie Nicolas Robert (Montreal). In the past few years, James Gardner was awarded the TFVA’s Artist Prize, the Tom Hopkins Memorial Graduate Award, the prestigious Joseph Armand Bombardier Canadian Master’s Scholarship (SSHRC), amongst multiple other awards. Most recently, Gardner was awarded the 2020 Nancy Petry Award and the William Blair Bruce European Travel Scholarship. Gardner’s work has been supported by multiple grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council Emerging Artist Grants.

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