Anticipating much of today's painting 'revival', James's practice, evolving over the last two decades, is at once playful and somber, emotive and rigourous, physical and illusionistic. His paintings include elements of landscape, interior and abstraction; depictions of structures such as sea walls and piers; images of figures or anonymous buildings and houses; transcriptions of older art and antique photographs.
Mood is often melancholic or restless. Style and idiom are varied and unpredictable. Concerns with genre, convention and artifice have been a constant in James's work, as part of an interrogation of the language of painting and the nature of aesthetic experience.
While initially suggesting detachment, James's reserve and criticality diverge from much post-modernism in being a 'shield', protecting faculties of responsibility, compassion, empathy and expression. In recent years the work's disarming sexuality, and exploration of such emotive forms as the seascape or portrait, confirm a faith (however resolutely materialist) in the human capacity for feeling, meaning and expression.