A fascinating biography with 80 illustrations
1977 (Age 26)
Critically Acclaimed Debut Show In London's West End
In May 1977, Elliott left Devon permanently, to go and live in London. His girlfriend model and muse, Mars, moved with him. In the same week he opened a one man show, entitled James Elliott's Debut Show, at the Pentax Gallery, in the West End of London. This was close to Piccadilly Circus and was one of only two, recently opened galleries in London, showing photography. The exhibition was critically acclaimed and drew crowds.
1978 (Age 27)
Fare Thee Well Dear Devonia, Hello Regent Street!
Adieu Semper Fidelis
Although Elliott and Mars arrived in London together and lived together for about a year, the relationship broke up due to the infidelity of Mars. The end of a five year relationship. Later in 1978, Elliott opened a studio, right in London's epicentre on Oxford Circus, at 262 Regent Street.
Now Is The Winter Of My Discontent.....
Elliott's new lady agent one day quipped "Look James you can't go around looking like Richard the Third forever." So the artist decided to change his style and on 6th February went to the KIng's Road in Chelsea. There he bought an entirely new outfit from head to toe in black, including new pointed shoes. Later that evening he created the Oxford Circus Autoportrait (above).
1979 (Age 28)
Elliott creates his first work which was a glimpse of the ground-breaking cyber art to come, although some say that accolade belongs to 'Metasphere' 1974+5. It is worth noting here, that right from square one Elliott pursued technical virtuosity as well as creative supremacy. Note that the face in this picture can be read from a front perspective, as if wearing some sort of helmet, or in profile, like a moon drawn as a caricature in a child's story book. This was an image decades ahead of the curve. Proto computer art.
1980 (Age 29)
By the end of the Seventies, Elliott already had an international reputation from a myriad of publications in photo annuals and magazines, which were published internationally. His reputation would spread rapidly throughout the Eighties and Nineties.
1981 (Age 30)
Elliott studies the dark art of transparency retouching, one of the the most closely guarded secrets of photography. There is only one course in Europe with ten places a year. Elliott gains a place, adding yet further to his technical mastery. Elliott notes that one must be 'more exacting than a painter' as any transparency retouching is magnified on printing. This mastery of the brush would come in handy when electronic retouching arrived with Photoshop.
1982 (Age 31)
After a decade of immense creativity, without any erotica, Elliott creates his first major erotic work : Champagne & Stilettos. The image took 107 hours of work and shows a new mastery of colour. Gone are the bells and whistles common in first symphonies and here was a vastly more restrained and beautiful palette. This was a glimpse of the pioneering fetish erotica which was to come.
1983 (Age 32)
Art And Glamour In Equal Measure
Elliott decided from the outset with his highly glamorous art, that the standards would have to be as high as he had already set for the rest of his art. So the early erotic work is art and glamour in equal measure. Ever the innovator, Elliott created the first fetish erotica classics that could seriously be considered art. This included designing and making many of the clothes, which did not exist at the time. Elliott's erotica from the early Eighties launched a million fetish photographers. This work predates the absorption of latex fashion into popular culture. The early erotica caused controversy. A year's worth of 'letters to the editor' and so on. Although Elliott only created twelve images, they became world famous.
1984 (Age 33)
Birth Of An Icon.
Elliott creates the iconic classic "Kiss On Frosted Glass", one of his most successful pictures, which garnered international acclaim. It has been published all over the world and although much imitated, has never been equaled.
1984 (Age 33)
Elliott also created his first hat in 1984 after several disastrous attempts with hatters. Despite his attempts to abandon them, on many occasions over the years, their popularity with the public, collectors and friends alike, has kept them current. He made them himself for 23 years, eventually delegating to the Spanish in 2007. Even they initially declined the challenge. Elliott's hats have the world's largest straight-as-a-blade brim.
1985 (Age 34)
The Poetry Of Titles
Elliott always creatively titled every piece of art he ever made, right from the beginning with the photograph, 'Under Grave Snow' (1968). Here the word 'grave' can be read in two ways, as an adjective or noun. Creative titling was not at all the norm in photography, or elsewhere in art for that matter, where mind-numbing titles like 'Untitled 49' were common. Worse yet, drearily descriptive titles like 'The Mountains Of Milford', were ubiquitous. Elliott found this contemptuously boring and it clashed violently with his extreme level of creativity. Over the years, his titles gradually evolved to the point where they have become unique. Elliott has created words like 'Metasphere' (1975) or even visual words like 'Voy(Ag)eur' (1983). This can be read 'voyeur', or 'voyageur' and Ag is the chemical symbol for Argentum - silver - which is all relevant to the subject matter.
This titular concept becomes more noticeable in the Eighties, with titles like 'Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis', 'The Inevitability Of Circumstance (And The Fall Of The Dice)' and 'Manic Mistress Synthesis'. Many of his titles, for example 'Kiss On Frosted Glass' or 'Madness Mistress Metamorphosis' are deliberately euphonic often featuring assonance or alliteration. They are a pleasure to say and roll off the tongue beautifully, which is another innovation. Today, many of his titles are almost works of art in themselves. Recently upon reading, 'The Bitch Behind The Devil Behind The Mask', an observer commented, "I want to buy the title!".
The longest title goes to the 1999 masterpiece 'Ashes To Ashes Heart to Heart The Queen Of Tarts Had A Very Rich Heart'. This was inspired by an overheard conversation in a London nightclub. A friend of Elliott's had approached a girl and she was enquiring as to his financial status. After some duration, the girl walked off and the friend shouted after her, "You have a very rich heart!". The poetic justice and laconicism of which, made the artist laugh loudly. It is also an oblique allusion to the anonymous English nursery rhyme, 'The Queen Of Hearts', which begins, "The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summer's day....."
Elliott again upped the ante with millennium masterpiece, 'Ultrametamorphica Supercybersynthesis' 1999-2001.
Euphony, Assonance & Alliteration - What Else?
Latest innovations include 'Neo Nuclei Quadrangle Split', 'Symphony Of The Spheres' and 'The Perpetually Perplexing Complexity Of Physicality'.
The artist stated after creating the latter, "Each ensuing word contains an element of the preceding one. It combines euphony, alliteration and assonance in a tongue twisting kind of way. The image was impossibly complex to make, so I wanted in part, to express that and make it a perfect mirror of the image it was describing. If you asked me how I created the image, technically, I really have no idea. It took too long and involved too much and was on the edge of comprehension. You just intuitively manoeuvre yourself through this kind of creation, not really aware of what you are doing."
In summation, over 50 years Elliott has given the titling of art a new level of originality and creativity, with innovative concepts and a liberal sprinkling of euphony, alliteration and assonance.
Ignoring the grammar and syntax for a moment and turning from the technical to the creative, many of the titles are highly innovative and poetic.
1986 (Age 35)
Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis - 407 hour epic masterpiece.
The entire summer of 1986, from May to September, was spent creating the world's first photo light sculpture. The entire piece was created from scratch by the artist. It had a 76 action exposure sequence, required 21 lights, 40 Polaroids, 160 test exposures, endless rolls of film and was exposed in 7 layers. It took 407 hours of work to create. Various elements moved during the exposures and the entire structure was silver and white, with colour only introduced via the lighting. This ensured the high saturation of colour. It was the last great 'Symphony For The Camera', as Elliott called them. After the artist moved to Belsize Park, his trajectory completely changed. Elliott moved during creation of this image and had to maintain two studios as 'Superchromatic Spectrosynthesis' was standing in his former studio unfinished. This continued for months, at great expense, until the masterpiece was ultimately completed.
1986 (Age 35)
Belsize Park Designer Darkstudio - Not at all the usual bicycle shed.
In 1986 Elliott also moved to 63 Belsize Park in London's Hampstead, where he designed and created the ultimate Darkstudio - a vast room capable of 100% blackout for totally controlled lighting and also colour printing. It famously also featured a glass chandelier, state of the art processing equipment, including thermostatically controlled water, a massive graphic mural of Elliott, a huge signature and a Bang & Olufsen stereo. Elliott created many of his Cibachrome masterpieces here.
1986 (Age 35)
Pioneer V2: Computer Art
In 1986 Elliott created a very important image entitled 'Digital Visage'. An absolutely cutting edge piece of cyber art. This was a glimpse of things to come and having championed Photo Art, he would, for the second time, pioneer a revolutionary new art form. Elliott's first experiments in computer technology predate Photoshop. Elliott used amongst other things, the Quantel Paintbox and later, the Kodak Premier system. Elliott recalls perceiving a graphics tablet as 'The Canvas Of The Future'. Which was probably about right.
1988 (Age 37)
Pioneering Art - Pioneering World Record Prices
Elliott not only pioneered Photo Art but also the selling of it. In 1988 he sold a 24 inch 'Metasphere' for $3,000. An edition of 10, this was a national record for a contemporary artist photographer and Elliott went on to break the European record and ultimately the world record. This run of success saw 'Metasphere' eventually selling for $40,000 in 1995, having smashed records a staggering five times. These prices were literally unheard of at the time. $40,000 was the price of about 3 new cars. Remember, few thought photography was art back then and even fewer bought it. In order to experience the success, Elliott asked Liz Caron to draw the money from the bank in Shakespeares (£20 notes) and throw it all over him, the better he might experience his success. Elliott not only pioneered photo art, but the selling of it, too. This was all reported in the press and perhaps Elliott did more than any other single photographer, to ignite interest in the contemporary photography market.
1988 (Age 37)
World Class Master Printer - Facilities which cost a Ferrari.
Elliott builds a huge state-of-the-art colour darkroom at Belsize Park NW3. It boasted three large format enlargers, three processing 'robots', thermostatically controlled and filtered water and even a glass chandelier. The equipment alone cost about the same as a Ferrari 308 GTS, at the time.
1989 (Age 38)
Light Years Exhibition - Here comes the pink Cadillac.
Elliott turned up to open his 'Light Years' exhibition in London's West End, in a Pink Fifties Cadillac Convertible, with Liz Caron. The solo exhibition at Visage Gallery ran for 4 months and featured 30 classic works.
1989 (Age 38)
Bye Bye First Love - OK computer.
1989 (Age 38)
Elliott coined the word 'Superglamour' to describe the new direction for his erotica. For decades the clichéd, archetypal body shape of women in the media, was the 'fashion stick', size zero girl. Elliott, ever the innovator, shattered this monopoly and instead ushered in girls with the extraordinary curves of an almost exaggerated femininity. Once again this influenced culture in ensuing decades, in a wider sense, where more curvaceous body shapes came to be more celebrated. Elliott was also ahead of the curve in the sense that the women in his images appear powerful. These images were a million miles from the oily, contorted, black-and-white nudes of mainstream erotic photography, common at the time. Elliott raised the stature of glamour through the stratosphere and into the domain of art.
All images © JAMES ELLIOTT 2022