I recently had the very good experience of working with Seattle artist James Brems, who happens to also be a good friend. Our daughters go to school and played soccer together and we’ve gotten to know each other the past few years. James is a painter and sculptor who has shown in galleries around Seattle and whose work is owned throughout the U.S., and he’s married to architect Alison Walker Brems, formerly of Johnston Architects and SHKS Architects and now out on her own for the past several years.
When they first met, James owned a small, classic Seattle bungalow dating from the early 20th century. Just up the hill from what was once the swampy shore of Lake Washington, James described the bungalow when he first bought it as small and utilitarian, no-frills, and quite “well used”, but solidly built overall. It was most likely originally built as a functional, blue-collar, worker’s home but had been carved up into smaller units and “re-muddled” several times.
As I understand his story, when James first bought it, the home functioned as both living quarters and art studio — its beat up floors and rustic brick basement walls providing both inspiration and enclosure for his projects. Over the years, James and Alison undid years of bad remodeling choices, cleaned up the surfaces where possible (including these beautiful hand-oiled floors) and made it a space for modern living, while trying to stay true to the original intent of the home as a space to reside, and be safe, and make memories. They’ve done almost all of the work themselves. It is a project that has lasted as long as their marriage and has woven itself throughout, utilizing both of their talents as designers, craftspeople, preservationists, curators, and artists.
For this most recent project, James had collected pieces from the past twenty years that he wanted to have photographed. We started with some basic reproduction shots of a dozen or more of his wonderfully geometric sculptural paintings using egg tempra paints.
We cleared a spot in the living room, rolled up the carpet, and fashioned a mini photo studio to shoot some basic reproductions.
But as we got close to being finished, James started telling me the stories of how he used to paint in this room; how the light from the big north-facing windows would illuminate the texture of the paint; how for just a few weeks each summer, the setting sun would be far enough around in the sky to stream in those north windows with a golden glow that was startling every year that it returned.
As we talked, James had the idea to showcase some of his work in the context of this room that he and his wife had restored together; that had been both home and studio, project and vessel, architecture and art. We played around for a few minutes, and I couldn’t agree with him more. The life that is infused in to the art from the story of the architecture in which it was created, is unmatched in any of the straight reproductions. Thanks for sharing your stories James, and for creating this image together. I look forward to many more of both.