Skip to content
This is an image of a painting made by February James in 2024 titled: Somebody's Auntie.

February James, "Somebody's Auntie", 2024


In the galleries: A D.C. artist honors her early years of learning and growth

By Mark Jenkins
March 15, 2024

After 16 years in Los Angeles, February James has returned to her hometown, a move marked by a show of paintings and sculptures, “Homecoming (I’m Coming Home).” In honor of her childhood, James has outfitted Cultural DC’s Mobile Art Gallery to evoke a D.C. school, with a tiled floor and walls that look like blackboards, complete with words and simple drawings rendered in white marks. (One sketch depicts mumbo sauce, a local staple.) The gallery, a repurposed shipping container, is currently positioned so its doorway faces the entrance of the nearby Rubell Museum DC, where several more of James’s paintings are on exhibit.

Most of James’s artworks depict Black women in a style that is simultaneously nostalgic and eerie; her portraits are usually described as focusing on a person’s “essence” over “physicality.” A series of white-painted plaster heads attached to rough wooden plinths includes one that’s set off by dangling strands of copper disks that suggest both braids and extravagant earrings. A painting of the faces of three women, “I’m Afraid but at Least I’m Living,” features ghostly pallors and reddish eyes. 

There’s nothing glamorous about James’s women, which is interesting, since she used to support herself as a showbiz makeup artist. But she does pay close attention to skin tones, which she renders by blending diverse materials, including acrylic, watercolor, oil, ink, pastel and charcoal. The results are both watery and chalky and fascinatingly complex. While her subjects are utterly flat, their flesh is richly textured, hinting at depths of memory and character.