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Issue 221

James Bartolacci’s Intimate Journey from Nightclub to After Party

At Taymour Grahne Projects, the artist's saturated paintings depict the city’s queer community in the nostalgic afterglow of nightclub life

BY Kevin Brazil in Exhibition Reviews , UK Reviews | 14 JUL 21

James Bartolacci’s The Last Night (all works, 2021), on view at Taymour Grahne Projects in the artist’s first UK solo show, depicts something that no longer exists – legally – in the city in which it’s exhibited: bodies on a dancefloor, touching, dancing, glistening.

james bartolacci 3am
James Bartolacci, 3 A.M., 2021, oil on canvas, 51 × 41 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects, London 

The Spectrum Closing Party also documents a scene that has disappeared in the artist’s hometown of New York: a crowd at Spectrum, the queer club in Brooklyn which shut the doors of its second location in January 2019, and those of its third at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. One dancer in the crowd holds a phone in the air, perhaps to record the ecstasy of the night, as if anticipating, in that moment, a future when it will become tinted with nostalgia.

Bartolacci creates his work by collaging photographs and videos taken by these dancers. For these new works, he paints them in the saturated colours of nightclub light – blues, greens, reds, purples – shades that he applies to various scenes. Phones also appear, tossed onto sheets, in the paintings which show the bedrooms where Bartolacci’s friends spent the pandemic. Some alone, like Ashley, dressed up to stay in, some together, like Chris and David, and the unnamed body lying, louche on creased bedsheets behind them. For these queer subjects, the dancefloor is as intimate a space as the bedroom – the bedroom as social a space as the club. This blurring of what is intimate and what is shared, these paintings suggest, is one thing defining queer night life.

james bartolacci chris and david
James Bartolacci, Chris and David, 2021, oil on canvas, 122 × 152 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects, London 

Like the dancer holding the phone, Bartolacci always appears to anticipate nostalgia, which is evoked most powerfully in those paintings, like 3 A.M., which eschew figurative portraiture and dissolve into blurs of neon. For a second, you are back in the crowd, wrapped in blinding light and welcoming darkness, a memory made hazy to allow you to remember both the bedroom and the club being better than they actually were.

Main image: James Bartolacci, The Spectrum Closing Party (detail), 2021, oil on canvas, 132 × 172 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects, London 

'James Bartolacci: Life Without Night' is on view at Taymour Grahne Projects, London, until 14 July. 

Kevin Brazil is a writer and critic based in London, UK. His book, What Ever Happened to Queer Happiness was published by Influx Press in 2022.