Working Artist and Independent Curator
Founder & Executive Director, BX200 Bronx Visual Artist Directory
Photo credit: Enda Suarez
At the heart of Laura James’ work is the desire to share something with the world- a story, a feeling, confidence, beauty.
“I am fascinated by the idea that people can see what I see in my mind’s eye, and blessed that I have the ability to show them,” she says.
A self-taught painter and illustrator, James has been working as an Artist for almost thirty years. As a child, she spent much of her free time at the Brooklyn Public Library, the only place her parents would let her go on her own. There she explored her passion for literature, photography, and later painting. Her African and Caribbean-American heritage, and a love of stories, design, and color, are all elements that have always been present in her work.
Painting in two styles she refers to as ‘sacred’ and ‘secular,’ James separates and combines the sacrosanct and the ordinary, and has created a diverse body of work that is her own.
Originally captivated by the Ethiopian Christian Art form, James’ sacred work employs this ancient way of making icons, and expands on the collection of stories traditionally painted in this style. James is pleased to help black people see themselves in their sacred texts, in African religions and Christianity, a place where racialized people have curiously been excluded in the west. To that end, James was delighted to illustrate The Book of the Gospels lectionary, published by Liturgy Training Publications in 2001; the book is used worldwide by numerous Christian denominations and is currently in its second edition. Her religious art is at the forefront of the movement toward a more inclusive representation of Biblical figures. Ms. James has recently expanded her repertoire to include sacred images from other traditions including the veneration of the Divine Feminine, Yoruba, Buddhism, ancient Egyptian themes, and Islam.
LTP book designer Anna Manhart writes, “We like Laura’s work because it is distinct, memorable, popular and timeless, telling stories in a simple, fresh, and direct way. People respond to the expressive faces, eyes, and gestures, colors, and intricately patterned clothing. Her art appeals to varied ages and cultures. The depictions carry the tradition of Ethiopian iconography to the present day, bridging centuries and continents.”
The youngest of eight sisters, her mother a homemaker, domestic worker and nanny, James’ secular work reflects her life, a world surrounded by women. She proudly paints women strong, majestic, and fragile, adding beauty to mundane aspects of life.
James’ ongoing work, The Nanny Series, abstracts images from her childhood with the use of surrealist painting and postcolonial theory to address issues of gender, work, and motherhood in the lives of domestic workers living in New York City.
For two decades James has been represented by Bridgeman Images, the world’s leading specialists in the distribution of fine art for reproduction, James’ work can be seen in hundreds of publications from textbooks to film worldwide. James has illustrated two children’s books, both written by Olive Senior and published by Tradewinds Books, Anna Carries Water (2014) and Boonoonoonous Hair! which was released in 2019. Both stories are centered on empowering young black girls, and building a foundation of self-love within them.
Laura James is also a valuable member of her community and is the originator and Director of BX200: Bronx Visual Artists Directory, an online database featuring some of the Bronx’s best visual artists. This project is a collaboration with over 200 Bronx artists and organizations. To promote the arts and culture being created today in the Bronx, besides the Directory, BX200 presents events and art exhibitions around the city. Ms. James has curated numerous exhibitions over the past 30 years and enjoys using her organizing talents to help other artists shine. With an eye on creative solutions, collaboration, and service, she is also an arts activist, and a proud member of her community board.
Besides working as a commissioned artist and illustrator, Laura has been working for years on paintings that deal with race and class in America and the Caribbean. The first piece with this theme, American History painted in 2001, was created after she read a newspaper article about a Black man who was dragged to death behind a truck in Texas.
Laura is currently working on what she hopes will be some of her best and most important work, a series of ten paintings around the theme of Race and Reparations that focuses on the ‘why’ more than the ‘how’, and each piece will show how the past is still being realized in the present.
Laura James lives and works in the Bronx, NY.
Video from The Nanny Series discussion recorded on October 20, 2019 at The Riverside Church with my sister/collaborator Dr. Sonia James-Wilson, Christine Lewis, Community Organizer with Domestic Workers United, and Rev. Alisha Gordon, Minister at The Riverside Church.