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Abstraction is Alive and Well in Boston: James Cambronne at Proof Gallery


James Cambronne, Where What Is?, installation at Proof Gallery, 2015. Image courtesy of Alexandre Gallery

There’s a wonderful egolessness to James Cambronne’s work that is rarely found in abstraction. The ab-ex movement casts a long shadow, consequently the “unmonumental” abstraction of the '90s and current “provisional” abstractions often feel more like a reaction to the New York School than an exploration of new territory. Not so with this show, which seems to come from a place of genuine curiosity and exploration. Cambronne’s painted installations currently on view at Proof Gallery are more concerned with phenomena than self-aggrandizement, and the show feels surprisingly open and organic given the precise, geometric construction of the work. It might have something to do with the fact that he grew up in South Dakota, where the ego can dissipate into the vast landscape instead of screaming for attention on a Manhattan street corner.


James Cambronne, Where What Is? (detail), installation at Proof Gallery, 2015.

The two standout pieces here are site-specific to Proof Gallery. On the main floor, Cambronne has constructed a tower out of small wooden boxes painted with a variety of brightly colored triangles. The color gives the installation a visual depth that’s much greater than its physical depth, immediately calling into question what part of the experience is architectural and what part is perceptual. Openings running the length of the tower’s four corners provide glimpses of a reflected light that hints at an unseen inner structure, while  lengths of colored twine suspended from  floor to ceiling punctuate the white walls. The twine acts as both drawn line and implied plane, disrupting and dematerializing the walls and  dissolving the surrounding architecture of the gallery ever so slightly, providing a strong counterpoint to the architectural elements. The show doesn’t end there. Cambronne’s installation continues onto the balcony level, where a previously hidden shaft drops below the floor. Here the dimensions of the negative space mirror the imagined structure of the tower’s unseen interior. There is a beautiful economy to Cambronne’s installation; although he uses the simplest of elements, less is definitely more.

This is a show that rewards patient looking and patient thinking, merging the philosophical and the phenomenological in surprising ways. The work transcends the simplicity of its construction and becomes more than the sum of its parts. Moving through the gallery and encountering both pieces (or is it two views of a single piece?), the overall experience is one of unexpectedly discovering a secret inner world hiding just out of plain sight. Leaving the gallery, viewers may be struck by the suspicion that Cambronne’s work would be even more impactful at a larger scale, with more space for the work to breathe.  We can only hope that sometime in the (hopefully near) future, he will be presented with a venue big enough to contain his artistic ambition. The work certainly deserves it.


James Cambronne’s show Where What Is? is up at Proof Gallery in South Boston through September 12th, 2015.

About Author

Michael Zachary earned a B.A. from Bowdoin College in 2002 and M.F.A. in painting from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2008. Highlights from his past year have included participation in group shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Ireland; a solo show in Charlottesville, VA; a residency in Ballyvaughn, Ireland; and visiting artist lectures in Virginia, Boston, and Ireland. He teaches drawing and painting at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Michael lives and makes work in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood in a house full of light and plants.

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