Artwork Detail

English Electric
Paramount Award Winner, 2004 Wallace Art Awards.

Jim Speers began making light box works in the 1990s. Illuminated from within their acrylic shells, these works are inspired by what the artist has called ‘the random sequence of memory’. The first major series of these was completed in 2000, while the artist was resident as the Frances Hodgkins Fellow at the University of Otago. Speers continued to develop the possibilities of the form through several spectacular exhibitions shown in New Zealand and internationally over the next few years. English Electric is one of the most striking of Speer’s light boxes, embodying the most enticing qualities of his work in this rich and mesmerising medium.

Despite its clean lines, neat rectangular form and sharp right angle shapes, there is something very sensual and even edible about English Electric. Deceptively formal on first encounter, Speers has consciously designed his light boxes to appeal to our basic appetites more immediately than to our sense of abstract aesthetics. ‘I want to rekindle those warm feelings that you get as night is falling and you’re walking towards the fish and chip shop and you see the neon light and think “Oh, that’s a nice sign”’, he said in 2004.

At another level of irony, the sharpness of the linear, cut-in shapes of English Electric is contrasted by the soft-focus effect produced by the light shining mistily through the coloured plastic. This produces an effect of saturation very reminiscent of the lighting in works by Joseph Mallord William Turner, the English master whose wet and wild seascapes in succulent oils and humid watercolours did so much to define the English atmosphere in the nineteenth century. In this sense the lightbox medium has enabled Speers to concentrate on purely abstract ‘painterly’ aesthetics by removing any obviously representational features. By shining light from behind the medium of coloured plastic, Speers mimics the effects achieved in oil painting through the action of light passing through the translucent layers of paint.

A regular exhibitor and representative of New Zealand in international exhibitions, Jim Speers was the McCahon House Artist-in-Residence October 2010 – January 2011.

Catalogue text:
Published on the occasion of the Twenty Wallace Art Awards Paramount Winners Exhibition.
14 February to 22 April 2012 at The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre and 2 August to 30 September 2012 at the Wallace Gallery Morrinsville.
Acrylic, Vinyl & Fluorescent Light (Light Box)
1350 x 1350 x 220
Accession number

Part of 1 highlight set