Shana James is known for her narrative works in painting, printmaking and artists’ books. Her thought provoking images use symbolic elements to convey her meaning; she is a visual storyteller. Her artworks are often like a moment from a story or a fragment of unfolding events and invite the viewer to respond with their own interpretation. In Shana’s art practice, she often uses words as a starting point for making images; especially poetry, literature or song lyrics.
Recent work uses the story of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll as a critical lens to explore ideas concerning self-actualisation. Through this work, she investigates the interplay between the individual – their choices and actions and the broader society.
Click here to read Interplay Catalogue Essays by Professor Ted Snell
Click here to read Understanding Alice Catalogue Essay by Dr Ric Spencer
Shana James is a mid-career artist based in Perth, Western Australia. She has maintained a continued practice over the past 30 years; exhibiting widely in Perth and Melbourne including ten solo exhibitions and numerous group shows and competitions.
Shana was born in Perth, the eldest of five children, she loved to paint and draw from an early age. She went to art school straight out of high school, studying fine art at Curtin University where she majored in printmaking. The year after graduating (1990) she had her first solo exhibition at the Bridge Gallery as part of Artrage – which was the name of the Perth Fringe Festival at the time.
Wanting to broaden her horizons she worked in several part-time jobs to save money to travel, including being chosen for a casual position teaching art education students at Edith Cowan University. She then moved to Tokyo, Japan where she lived and worked for six months, teaching English to Japanese business men and women. During this time she became aware of the fantastic international exhibitions that a large city like Tokyo has to offer, seeing original works by masters such as Kandinsky, Schiele and Picasso, as well as becoming interested in Japanese woodblock prints and beautiful Japanese papers. Her visual diaries from this period speak to her expanding knowledge of Japanese culture and the realisation of how culture affects the individual sense of self. Both the experience of living in a foreign culture and the artworks she saw had a profound effect on her subsequent artwork.
From Tokyo, she then flew to London where she met up with her boyfriend Craig Graham a graphic designer whom she would later marry. In London, she worked in two art materials stores owned by Winsor and Newton; using this time to expand her knowledge of art materials and processes and discovering the London art galleries and museums. Here she continued her practice making works that responded to her changing environment and sense of self. She also joined the Kew Art Studio to have access to an etching press while also working predominately in drawing. From London, she traveled through several countries in Europe where she visited many galleries and viewed works both historical and contemporary which she could never have had access to in Australia. This period of travel would become crucial to Shana’s subsequent art practice back in Australia.
After traveling in Europe, Turkey and Thailand, she returned to Australia and was selected as artist-in-residence at the Canning Arts Centre. She installed her new etching press in the centre and taught drawing and printmaking to both adults and children. This would prove to be a productive time in her career, brimming with ideas from her travels. During this time she was represented by Artplace run by Brigitte Braun and became part of the Artplace stable, initially in the Claremont Gallery and later in Northbridge, where she was involved in numerous group shows and solo exhibitions including a Festival of Perth exhibition (1995). She also exhibited for the first time in Melbourne as part of the curated exhibition Artplace at Gallery 101, which lead to being represented by Gallery 101 for several years. Additionally, her work was purchased by several recognised collections including Kerry Stokes and Artbank. Shana was represented by Artplace for 10 years. Her last solo show with them being Pomegranate (2000) which was an exhibition that emerged out of the experience of becoming a mother.
During the next period of Shana’s work, boats became a strong metaphor for movement and change, now with two children (one of whom has a learning disability) Shana’s work took on a potency as she grappled with changes in her life. During this time she began teaching at the Fremantle Arts Centre and found an equilibrium between teaching and her art practice; building a purpose-built studio in her backyard. At this time she exhibited widely including Precipitate, a solo exhibition of oil paintings exhibited in the foyer of the QV1 building and Interplay an exhibition of collographs. You can read the Interplay catalogue essay by Professor Ted Snell here.
In 2013 Shana created Ubud Art Workshops – upskilling art retreats in Bali, where she taught and exhibited, this workshop in Bali has been running annually for six years (now paused due to Covid). Additionally curating two linocut exhibitions in 2019 and 2020 for the ARMA museum, including both her own works and those of her students. In 2015 she had her first Alice in Wonderland exhibition Understanding Alice an exhibition of Linocuts at the Firestation Print Studio in Melbourne, later this entire body of work was collected by the Monash University Library along with 2 of her handmade artists’ books. Followed by the group show: Seven Printmakers Respond to Place (2016) curated by Jana Braddock at Heathcoate Goolagatup, in Applecross.
In 2017 Shana began a Masters by Research Degree in Visual Art, at Edith Cowan University, using this opportunity to understand the Alice in Wonderland text in more depth while continuing and contextualising her narrative practice. This study was completed part-time while she continued teaching at the Fremantle Arts Centre together with her annual Ubud Linocut Workshops. During this period of study, she had her ninth solo exhibition with Stala Contemporary – Curiouser and Curiouser (2019) in West Perth who continue to represent her. In 2021 She had her Tenth solo exhibition as part of her Master’s Research in 2021 Down the Rabbit Hole at Spectrum Project Space ECU Mt Lawley, which she has now completed. This was a whimsical and immersive exhibition drawing on her 30-year history as a printmaker and diversifying into installation, drawing a mural on the gallery wall and a projected animation See interview from the exhibition here.
Shana lives with her husband and two daughters 15 minutes from Fremantle, Western Australia, where she works from her home studio. She is continuing her teaching at the Fremantle Arts Centre and now unable to travel to Bali due to Covid has now created Creative Breaks, with shorter workshops in Western Australia. See Shana’s CV here.
Shana is represented in Perth by STALA CONTEMPORARY.
Quote from an Essay on Shana’s Work by Ted Snell
“Like many artists before her James creates a world with its own rhythm and order. Marc Chagall, Paul Klee and the British painter Ken Kiff were able to convince us of another parallel world where the mysterious and visionary were an everyday experience. They created a place of escape, like dreams, that were not entirely safe but provided a kind of security and familiarity. Like a fairy tale her narratives unfold and gather us in, giving us the strength to deal with fears and doubts in the expectation that all will be well, in the end. There is a humanness in these works that evolves from her poetic interpretation of incidents in everyday life.” Professor Ted Snell Catalog Essay 2008
To read the entire essay click here
The following is a 10-minute interview with Shana on ABC Radio National’s Books and Arts program.
You can follow Shana on social media