James Welling earned both a BFA and an MFA at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where he studied with, among others, Dan Graham. He emerged in the ’70s as an artist for whom photographic norms and the representational field itself were and remain contested and problematical.
In the fall of 1970 he began a series of grey monochrome paintings, as well as making his first black and white photographs – night exposures of Pittsburgh. In 1975 Welling started taking colour Polaroid’s using a shutterless camera and long exposures. In order to intensify the colours, he heated the prints during processing.
After moving to New York in 1978, Welling began to photograph aluminium foil and drapery velvet scattered with pastry dough. These two series of abstract images were exhibited in one person shows at Metro Pictures, New York in 1981 and 1982. Welling’s work from this period became part of a larger critical re-evaluation of photography in contemporary art.
In the mid-1980s Welling made a series of paintings and photographs strongly informed by fractal geometry. At this time Welling also worked as a freelance photographer for Sotheby’s and in the Design Department of the Museum of Modern Art.
Welling has exhibited at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover as well as in Chicago, Brussels, New York and London. In 1984 Welling was awarded a grant in photography by the New York Foundation for the Arts and the following year he received a National Endowment for the Arts individual artists’ grant. In 1999 Welling was awarded the DG k Forder Prize in Photography for the New Abstractions.