Paul James Biography Continued:
At around the same time we would visit my grandmother, along with five cousins, on a Sunday afternoon. She had a beautiful big piano in her front room and, after my cousins had finished bashing away at the keys, I would stay behind and see which notes sounded good together. Having recognised my artistic and musical abilities at that age my parents gave me every support and encouragement I needed to pursue them.
When the time came to go to school I was a reluctant pupil. I felt different from the other kids and I did not like the formality or structure of it all.
Not surprisingly the only subjects that I did well at were art and music. Initially I thought I might make a career as a concert pianist, and then I thought maybe I would become a rock star, but luckily I finally settled on becoming an artist. My art teacher at the time however considered it a ‘silly notion’ and insisted that I should attend art-college to undertake a course in graphic design. It was not what I wanted to do and I spent more time hanging around the local Ferrari dealership painting exotic and classic cars. I lived in the hope that one of the many rich and famous customers would commission me to paint a picture of their car. Unfortunately it was not to be! Approximately half way through the course I decided to quit as it was not for me. After that I dabbled around in a range of activities, earning some money painting people’s pets, playing the piano in the pubs, clubs and cocktail bars, and I even spent a summer season entertaining folks at one of the infamous Butlins Holiday Camps. I also spent some time running my own business in the motor trade, however my urge to paint took hold again and I decided to commit my time to painting professionally in 1986.
I continued with taking commissions for pet portraits, but still with an interest in cars and all things mechanical I became a member of the Guild of Motoring Artists, but this was short lived as I did not feel that it was the right subject matter for me. I experimented with portraits of people, landscapes, birds of prey, sheep and cattle. As my landscape paintings became popular, I spent time developing a style that I could call my own.
For many years I also had another ambition, which was to make my home and studio on board a narrow boat. This ambition was finally achieved in 1997. Being nomadic by nature this lifestyle suits me perfectly. I can be somewhere different every day if I choose. Sometimes I prefer the tranquillity of the countryside, whilst other days being in the centre of a busy town or city is preferable. As a relatively simple, humble way of living I can concentrate my energies in to my art and music
Different images and scenic views I encounter whilst travelling on my narrow boat offer me ample inspiration for new works. I already have lots of ideas for future paintings, which would take me years to paint and yet almost every day I get more ideas, not only from what I see around me, but sometimes whilst I’m involved with a painting I think of ways of how I might change it, or improve it. I have been known to paint the same painting several times over in an attempt to better it. Even though I have thousands of photographs that I have taken over the years for future reference, I have a need to take more. Ideas and images compete for priority.
More recently I've felt that I've had the time to experiment with a more contemporary approach to my work, with greater emphasis on the animals than landscape. Giving images a more humerous feel. I'm still working in detail but I'm playing around with perspective and size.
I keep lists that I constantly update and I’m always planning and reviewing my painting programme. This is a vital part of the process. I try to avoid having to work to deadlines as this has a tendency to kill my enthusiasm for the piece; I hate working under pressure. I like to have the flexibility to choose what I want to paint, when I want to paint it. For this reason I no longer take commissions.
I also like to view other artist’s work, and I will visit galleries and exhibitions when I can. I am a great fan of M.C Escher and Salvador Dali; in fact nothing thrills me more than standing in front of a Salvador Dali original. I’ve been lucky enough to visit his home at Cadeques and museum at Figueres in Spain and I saw magnificent works of his at St Petersburg, Florida.
The first artist, however, that inspired me was David Shepherd having seen him on television as a small child, but more recently amongst many artists, I’ve been impressed with the works of Nancy Howe, Steve Hanks and Douglas Hoffman. That is not to say that I want to emulate them, I want to be recognised for my own style, but I do appreciate the quality and detail of their work. I was also seriously impressed with the work of Chuck Close after seeing an exhibition of his at a gallery in Washington DC.
I am lucky that I have a lifestyle that provides me with a constant supply of evocative images and that gives me the freedom to travel. I want to do more travelling, not just here in Britain but around the world, to experience and to paint different landscapes. One thing I do know is that I shall never be bored.
Essentially I regard myself as a landscape artist. I’ve become renowned in particular for the atmosphere that I capture within them. Most of my paintings include relevant animal life and sometimes it is the animals that take importance and become the main focus of my painting. Many of my pieces are serious compositions, although I also like to have fun and I may include elements of humour.
I work primarily from photographs, often creating a collage of different images to form a basis for my paintings. I paint in acrylic on canvas or board. The majority of my paintings are large, as they need to do justice to the subject matter.
At any given time I have between seven and eight paintings in various stages of completion. This allows me to make best use of my palette and keeps me stimulated. Almost instinctively I know what size and shape the canvas or board should be for each piece. Sometimes I will use charcoal, but more generally I use dark paint to sketch the outline plan and I correct with white paint. Gradually I start to apply large areas of block colour. This stage normally takes a day or two to complete after which the detailing process then begins. I always start with the background and work forwards, layer upon layer. I use a wide selection of brushes, many that I have had for years; even the most hairless have a part to play. I pay meticulous attention to detail as I want to achieve excellence. At various stages I mix and apply glazes to enhance the light and atmosphere. Each painting for me is an emotional experience and I expend a great deal of energy and a fair amount of aggression with each piece. It is almost like a battle of wills as I try to impose myself upon the canvas. On average a painting takes about a month to complete. Art is my obsession. I am not prolific; it is the quality of the end result that matters most to me.
I generally rise early; I like to experience the early morning light and I function better earlier in the day. I am very upbeat first thing and like to play lively music such as Poncho Sanchez whilst I am preparing for the start of the day. Depending on the time of year we may move the boat, although even that does not happen until I’ve had my customary mug of coffee. Early mornings on the canal can be quite magical; blue skies and watery sunshine, the mist gently rising, herons taking off in majestic flight, whilst kingfishers dart in and out of the hedgerows, it is nothing less than awe-inspiring. There is a real sense of being at one with nature, never more so when I get to share my breakfast with the passing ducks, swans and geese.
Once behind the easel I paint almost continually during the daylight hours, stopping only briefly for necessary sustenance or occasionally I try to fit in a swim at the nearest leisure centre. I generally have the radio or a CD on. I have eclectic tastes from Brubeck to Beethoven, Mahler to Metallica, and Tori Amos to Tschaikowsky; or alternatively I might attempt to improve my Spanish with home learning tapes. I reluctantly pack away as the light begins to fade.
I share the boat with my partner Linda who is my soul mate. She has a great sense of fun and stops me from taking myself too seriously by making me laugh. She always sees things in a positive light and her enthusiasm is infectious. She takes much of the load of the business of art off my shoulders leaving me free to paint.
Evenings can be very varied; we may spend time together working on business matters. We may move the boat a little further and rather like the mornings the evening light can offer up some wonderful views. I nearly always spend sometime playing the piano, often with a glass of beer or wine to hand – it is my main form of relaxation. Although classically trained I prefer to play jazz and blues. We also socialise a lot with people we meet along the way, friends both old and new. The boating fraternity is quite incredible, almost like a village community in its own right; wherever we are friends are generally not far away. During the summer months we get involved in festivals and events. Lots more socialising is compulsory. It’s exhausting but lots of fun.