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James Bartolacci, “Life Without Night (Khaled)” (2020)
James Bartolacci, “Life Without Night (Khaled)” (2020), Pastel on Paper, 36 x 27.5 in.Courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects

These paintings pay tribute to the queer nightlife of NYC

James Bartolacci’s Life Without Night exhibition evokes the pulsating music and neon lights of New York’s pre-pandemic queer club life

James Bartolacci believes “nightlife is an art form in itself”. Life without Night, his upcoming exhibition at London’s Taymour Grahne Projects, pays homage to the queer nightlife of New York City. Drawing on his own experiences, the artworks lovingly recreate moments of passion, exhibitionism, and self-expression in nightclubs, alongside quieter moments in the bedrooms and bathrooms of friends. According to a statement from the gallery, each work “honours the production of an evening out.”

Working in pastels and oils, Bartolacci’s late-night scenes radiate the phosphorous glow of neon-lit city nights. Whilst the upcoming exhibition will include brand new artworks, examples of his past paintings include “444 Club” (2019) – a perfect dancefloor tableau; like a postcard from a time when physical proximity with strangers was unexceptional, and queer spaces like these promised a sense of belonging. “Leftovers” depicts the detritus of partying – two abandoned drinks, bathed in fluorescent light, suggesting either the beginning or the end of a big night. The sense of pulsating music, heat, humidity, and saturated, radiant light is tangible. 

Bartolacci began working on the project prior to the pandemic when the nightlife of the city was in full swing. He continued to make work during lockdown, when his images came to reflect the changes in how his community socialised, and the paintings pivot towards more intimate one-on-one scenes in friends’ bedrooms and bathrooms. Composed in collaboration with each sitter, the artist encouraged his friends to style themselves and their surroundings, exchanging memories about nights out as he worked. “Offering an expanded insight into each person through their bedroom ephemera,” the gallery tell us, “the works gesture to the labour and devotion involved in creating a nocturnal look.”

At a strange point in time when we’re uncertain if the nocturnal life of cities can ever resume in the same way again, Life without Night offers a visceral reminder of the magic and transformative possibilities of nighttime. Take a look through the gallery above for a glimpse of Bartolacci’s luminous paintings.

James Bartolacci: Life Without Night exhibition is showing at Taymour Grahne Projects’ Holland Park gallery from June 19 2021