Discipline: Visual Art – painting

James Esber

Discipline: Visual Art – painting
Region: Brooklyn, NY
MacDowell Fellowships: 1992, 2001, 2023

Working in the border territory between abstraction and representation, James Esber uses a variety of media to disassemble and distort the emotionally charged and often clichéd images of Americana. The characters he’s drawn to, pawed-over icons of popular culture, include things like gunslingers, flag-wavers, dimpled children holding flowers, deadbeat alcoholic dads, and self-absorbed selfie-takers. His paintings, built through a process of hyperbolic mark-making, are hybrid images often fragmenting and imploding while at the same time stubbornly retaining their integrity.

Esber has shown his work in New York and abroad including a 25-year survey at the Clifford Gallery at Colgate University (2014) and a solo exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT (2011). He has had multiple one-person shows at PPOW, NYC, Bernard Toale in Boston, and Pierogi in both New York and Leipzig. He has also shown widely in group exhibitions, including Flex at the Tang Museum (2020), Now What? at The Norton Museum of Art (2011), and SITE Santa Fe’s Fifth International Biennial: Disparities and Deformations: Our Grotesque (2004). In 2023 and 2024, he will have shows at Markel Fine Arts and High Desert in NYC as well as a two-person exhibition at Catskill Art Space with Jane Fine.

At MacDowell in 2001, Esber worked on painting and wall pieces made of plasticine. During his 2023 Fellowship, he worked on a number of small drawings focusing on cliched character types and exploring the boundary between abstraction and figuration. He also began two large figurative paintings derived from themes and imagery in popular culture.



James Esber worked in the Heinz studio.

The icehouse, built of fieldstone in 1914–1915, was a practical part of Marian MacDowell’s plan for a self-sufficient farm. Winter ice cut from a nearby pond was stored here for summer use on the property. Idle since 1940, it was a handsome but outdated farm building. In 1995, Mrs. Drue Heinz, a vice chairman…

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