Painter James Bartolacci memorialises LGBTQ parties and their significance in the Trump era​

From a small city in Pennsylvania, a family of athletes and a conservative upbringing, James Bartolacci, a once competitive swimmer for 10 years, managed to break free of expectations to begin a life of painting. “At the time, I felt a lot of frustration and repression from my conservative surroundings, and painting gave me a tool to express myself,” he says. “I had no idea then that painting was something I could practice seriously.”

With a spontaneous approach to art, James transfers his everyday observations into a slightly obsessive and fast-faced process. “I just like snapping quick pictures of things I like on my phone and composite them later on my laptop into the scene I’m going for. Then I draw a very basic layout on the canvas, mix my colours and start painting,” says James. His outcome presents a highly stylised and colourful approach; the canvas is filled with resilience, royal blues and a soft glow to represent the happiness and escapism received from a night out. By taking inspiration from his surroundings, James’ recent imagery captures the significance of nightclub culture and, more importantly, the LGBTQ community.

“The nightlife and bar paintings came from wanting to memorialise gay bars and parties — places that give queer people a place of reprieve at night,” explains James. After moving to New York five years ago, where he met other practicing artists, he built on his artistic template and began seeing signs of determination and passion in his work — this was highlighted by the people he’d met and the places he’d been. “My favourite times in New York have been the nights when I’ve gone out alone and run into everyone I know in the same place. When I go back home to Pennsylvania, it’s heartwarming to see gay bars thriving even in an area where there isn’t a visible LGBTQ community. People drive miles to feel that comfort and sense of welcome. And I can’t emphasise enough how crucial that is in the Trump era.”

“Since the inauguration, each day is an onslaught of gut-wrenching headlines: transgender people are banned from the military, a partial ban against Muslim travellers and refugees is in effect, and Republicans keep trying to take away our health care and finance their stupid border wall — it’s infuriating,” says James. “When I go out at night, and see that people can still find happiness on the dance floor surrounded by their friends, it makes you feel a temporary sense of relief. My earlier paintings expressed tension and isolation, and I wanted these [recent] paintings to convey a lightness and buoyancy, which is why they seem to emit a soft alluring glow.”