For a decade the handsome young Brit Anthony James has been a leading light on the high-end New York party circuit. Fueled by generous doses of gin and other comestibles, the lad known out and about as "Little Anthony" hobnobbed with close friends such as singer Marianne Faithfull, actress Chloe Sevigny and Keith Richards' producer-son Marlon. He also modeled clothes for Italian Vogue and other glossies.
Few realized that James was all along a serious Minimal artist experimenting with light and space. Seven years ago, Anthony gained an audience with Mary Boone, only to arrive, after a few days' revelry, 24 hours late for the appointment, a no-no in Booneville.
James' projects required huge fabrication costs that the son of a London pub owner could rarely afford. Thus flummoxed by his own shortcomings and indulgences, Anthony's career appeared over before it began.
Then two years ago, James quit substance abuse cold turkey and continues to drink only water on his night crawls. Last summer he married his beautiful wife Phoebe at the Maritime Hotel, in a bash attended by the crème of the fashion world. And, just as importantly, James acquired a backer, collector Larry Benenson, son of the great 20th-century collector Charles Benenson, who bequeathed his holdings in African and contemporary art to the Yale University Art Gallery.
Mental and financial freedom have enabled Anthony James to create a body of Minimalist sculpture, currently being showcased at a SoHo loft, that should rocket the former wastrel to art-world stardom.
James' new pieces reference the best recent art history, while transcending these influences. Three stunning red, yellow and green light boxes, highlighting the interplay of mirrors and fluorescence, are based on the same series of Mondrian's unfinished drawings that inspired Richard Pettibone's show at Castelli last season.
James cheekily mocks Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaners in two glorious works in which he inserts $10,000 chainsaws in lightboxes that could have been constructed by Robert Smithson. In another bold gesture, Anthony has refabricated a late period Donald Judd box and unwrapped it flat on the wall.
James' mixture of connoisseurship and sheer beauty has attracted significant supporters, such as critic Neville Wakefield and curator Clarissa Dalrymple.
Mary Boone returned three weeks ago, alighting from her limousine at 8 a.m. with a tape measure -- Boone then proceeded to meticulously measure each piece to see how they might fit in her uptown space.
Dealer Tracy Williams has already reserved a work for one of her collectors, and John Good of Gagosian Gallery will drop by for an inspection this week.
Anthony James, who recently turned 30, has always been a kind, charismatic chap, but that wasn't enough for him. His sobriety and marital happiness have unleashed a major new talent on the art world and a welcome redemption tale for the new art year.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).