“A brilliant example of art for art’s sake”: the James Oliver exhibition launch at Descartes Gallery, Matthews Yard


By - Friday 8th April, 2016

Jonny Rose praises the Croydon artist James Oliver’s imaginative and vivid exhibition at Matthews Yard


Artist James Oliver with Leoni, owner and curator of Descartes Gallery.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

In an age where everyone thinks they’re a legitimate social commentator with a Big Idea, it’s refreshing to meet someone who creates art just for the heck of it.

James Oliver is one such person, and last Friday I had the joy of conversing with the genial Jarvis Cocker lookalike at the launch of his new exhibition at the descART.es Gallery in Matthews Yard.

From Mayday Hospital to the galleries of Germany

Oliver is a Croydonian born and bred, but now resides with his wife in nearby Redhill. He’s a full-time nurse, however the art comes thick and fast during any spare time he has in his makeshift home studio.

Oliver is also an incredibly savvy social media operator. His career launched with a large piece (Kai) which was uploaded to Facebook and quickly generated interest, then sales. Oliver continued to create on demand and experiment, putting in more effort each time, sharing online and shipping worldwide. Now in 2016, he has sold more than one hundred pieces.

For all of Oliver’s humility it turns out that he’s starting to become a bit of a thing in the art world.

“At the same time as Oliver’s Croydon launch, two other exhibitions of the Croydonian’s work were opening in North and South Germany”

Still he hasn’t let global success go to his head. Indeed, Oliver’s head (and heart) remains firmly Croydon-bound. If you have walked through the Croydon ‘arts quarter’, you will have seen his work as one of the many permanent fixtures beside Kevin Morrison’s RISE Gallery over the past year.

Having historically just had just the one panel in St George’s Walk to work with, it’s great to see a fuller range of Oliver’s talents can now be displayed to Croydon’s growing art community.

The exhibition at descART.es Gallery

The author, with James Oliver, marvelling at Centaur Dioramas.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

If there was one cohesive theme to the collection it was ‘juxtaposition’, a word that Oliver kept on using as he took me and a group of friends around the cosy gallery in Matthews Yard.

Rainbow Entity Project features a series of large colourful Tetris blocks with eyes impressed upon antiquated pastoral scenes. The background paintings are bought by Oliver from charity shops, before he goes about adding the curious figures which look like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Portrait of the Artist with a Box on His Head is a collection of black and white photos of Oliver sitting around his house in his boxers with a cardboard box on top. Although such a display might be considered ‘vulnerable’ or ‘erotic’, I found the frames to be pleasingly unshowy: Here’s a man, in his forties, in his boxers, with a box on his head. Take it or leave it.

Centaur Dioramas features a warped series of Barbie dolls heads, combined with My Little Pony bodies and weapon appendages, set against comparatively tranquil backdrops. It’s not an original idea (variations can be found in Nirvana’s In Utero artwork or the scary toys in Toy Story), however, when pressed by me to explain it, it became clear that Oliver wasn’t going for anything original: he felt like doing it, enjoys the resultant contrast, and thinks that you – the viewer – will, too. Simple.

Other pieces around the room were entitled Madam Oojamaflip, This Is Planet Earth, Mental House, and Giant Floating Head. They’re worth going to see for the names alone.

They say that art should shock or challenge, but Oliver’s artwork did none of that to me. Instead, it embodied the French philosophy of “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake). Here was a man for whom art is simply an enjoyable pursuit and he has happened to inadvertently find a market for it.

I left the exhibition none the wiser about the bigger questions of life or with a renewed lens with which to view reality – and you know what? I’m completely alright with that.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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