James March: Blending Logic with Emotion

James March, Mirage, Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches, Courtesy of the artist

The emotionally expressive brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism collide with the programmatic hard-edged lines of Op art in James March: Op Expressionism (at BAYarts thrugh August 7). Together, the two modes of painting balance internal and external perceptions of the artist’s psyche, each creating a dynamic energy of their own. Used together, March brings order to chaos and conflict to structure. His  paintings are clearly anchored in the lineage of Op with works that recall artists like Al Held, Julian Stanczak, or Bridget Riley. Around 2014, March began exploring layering in expressive brushstrokes before taping off and applying sections of linear stripes or curves.

The artist admits he never cared much for Abstract Expressionism, “I was never a painterly painter, so it was a leap into the unknown.” The unknown has paid off for March, as his paintings shift between unique and diverse ways of reading the works. The paintings in the exhibition flow from balance and delineation to a more densely packed and congealed form of expression where hard-edge and painterly marks blend through acidic colors into a collection of raw emotion. The Op lines sometimes read as a veil through which we view the dramatic paint lying beneath, while at other times merging to create a unified form of expression.

In paintings like Mirage, the two styles seem to merge, unifying into one singular abstraction that behaves as if paintings by Jesús Rafael Soto were overlayed atop those of Hans Hoffman. The push-and-pull of color creates a flux of energy that flows between the expressive brushstrokes and the controlled geometric forms that attempt to temper them through logic and structure. Paintings in this style are not premeditated and allow for chance and aesthetic preference to inform the final result. “I paint quite freely with large palette knives and brushes,” March says. “At some point I begin to use my taped line technique and carve out some space and I may get a sense of a direction […].”

James March, Untitled, Op Painting, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 inches, Courtesy of the artist

In paintings like Untitled Op Art, the linear components are deliberately planned. The become the subject of the composition as they appear to float above the surface of the canvas, completely separate from the expressive gestures beneath. Optical effects explored by artists like Carlos Cruz-Diez are on full display with converging lines that express the kinetic energy of color and form. The moiré effect, where intersecting lines of give a sense of movement, is rendered through white stripes overtop a primarily expressionist background. Solidifying the optical study are three groupings of black sections with shifting white lines that define geometric shapes. Additionally, three spaced out green lines explore the dynamism of movement found in Poggendorf’s Illusion where the intersection of lines at acute angles optically appear to interrupt their paths and shift linear positions.

James March, Different Kinds of Truth, Acrylic on Canvas, 24 X 24 inches, courtesy of the artist


In Different Kinds of Truth, March presents the viewer with three horizontal sections that show the different ways he utilizes Op and Abstract Expressionism. The top section uses geometric lines to veil the brushstrokes, the middle section emphasizes the emotionally charges paint, while the bottom section focuses on a pure Op art composition. This format gives the viewer a path to see artistic growth and experimentation as March continues expanding his body of work further into the exploration of introducing opposite forces.

“I got to a point in my Op work where I needed to break out and make a “Quantum” leap…” Interested in exploring scientific theories, March explains his combining of two opposing art historical movements as an amalgamation, “Two totally antithetical styles merged. In science it was the merger of the wave and particle theories of the subatomic world that was the basis of quantum mechanics.” Through his combination of styles, March succeeds in keeping the eye moving with ever-fresh perceptions and interpretations between the emotional and the analytical.

James March, Op Expressionism, installation view courtesy of BAYarts


The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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