James Wolanin taps our culture’s collective visual conscious, creating vibrant reflections on American life. Blue skies, effervescent smiles, and carefree adventures characterize the artist’s Utopic vision, which blends nostalgia for mid-century glamour with a contemporary aesthetic. Identifying with Pop artists like Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Alex Katz, Wolanin gives us sparkling, stylized images that read like mixtures of glossy advertising and ecstatic daydreams. In his latest series, “A Summer Song,” a sense of warmth radiates from the canvases, full of sun-soaked beaches, pools, and polished women in retro-style bathing suits that instantly conjure the golden age of American leisure.
“I try to bring the viewer back to a time of innocence,” Wolanin has said. His paintings transport us to a universe inspired by photographs, real-world vintage advertisements, and the artist’s own childhood memories, inhabited by figures of the American dream come to life. The paintings wink at our conception of an idealized past even as they recreate a vision of perfection. Beneath their seductive surfaces, they swirl with psychological substance—Wolanin does not simply paint a scene, but constructs what he has called “unfinished emotional narratives for the viewer to complete.” Like the best portraitists, he can suggest entire relationships and personalities through a character’s pose or glance.
Wolanin’s background as a designer is evident in his dynamic compositions and fizzing color combinations. He forms each painting through an innovative stenciling technique that builds layer upon layer, color upon color, and concludes—fittingly—with a coating of surfboard resin. In addition to numerous solo and group exhibitions, his work is found in a number of significant collections, including a recent purchase by the Alex Katz Foundation. Educated at the School of Visual Arts in New York, he lives and works in New Jersey.