Andrew James is one of our two new member artists, elected in June 2017. A self-taught painter, Andrew tells us about his unconventional path to becoming a full-time artist - his influences, his work ethic, how he feels about now being a New English Art Club member, and his brush with a Beatle...
"I had no formal education – a complete blank slate that I've been exclusively responsible for generating and building independently. But of course, as everyone knows, that's just not the way things work. Even though I've had no formal training whatsoever, I have always sought out information and ideas from a very wide spectrum of sources within culture. It is, after all, around us in great abundance.
Ultimately though, the art of growth and success appears to be the ability to select ideas and concepts that stand up to proper analysis and testing. Admittedly, I've been 95% self-directed, but even there my approach has very much been shaped by external cultural trends and fashion, certainly not by pure individual insight alone. I do feel however the space and freedom I've enjoyed has been a wonderful thing - a gift to allow a preference for, and trust in my inner voice.
I have two very simple concepts or guides that I've tried to live by: Trust your inner voice and never give up!
'Mindset over medium'
The goal of being creative has always been to the fore in my awareness of who I am, therefore I should try to live up to that recognition. Up until now that's been as a painter, but I don’t see why it should or must remain so. For me, mindset over medium counts most of all; it doesn't have to involve paint. Being free to think spontaneously and make things with a sense of playful enterprise is – and has always been – of the greatest importance. As for other forms of employment, they've nearly always involved lowish wages and getting my hands dirty.
Influences and inspirations
Here are the names of five artists whose influence will remain with me forever: Picasso, Van Gogh, El Greco, Velázquez and Freud.
In the wider sense, I'm much more influenced by individual artistic creations, even details of works, rather than grand legacies or careers. No one body of work can represent to me a complete artistic influence, consistently and inspirationally relevant from beginning to end.
'Hard work always pays off'
Routine is a rather pejorative term these days, but I do believe regularity is hugely important. I recall Flaubert having said, 'You must be natural and regular in your habits as a bourgeois in order to be violent and original in your work'. I'd be very inclined to say there's great insight behind those words. Hard work always pays off and whenever I've put my best efforts in, I've always enjoyed my greatest rewards.
A 9am start through to 6 or 7pm is a successful day for me. A good day’s work is paced by sessions of 90-minute blocks, fuelled by tea and short breaks. This seems the best way to negotiate a 9- or 10-hour day. I work in my own house, in a 15 x 15 ft sq room with decent but not perfect light. Overall a modest but perfectly good setup.
Material: predominately Michael Harding paints, heavy cotton canvas, mid-price hog hair brushes and hand-made stretchers.
Favourite works and first sale
Occasionally I complete a piece and for a short while after I believe it to be the most incredible thing ever made. Very soon after that, my head clears and a truer perspective is properly established and I sensibly press on with my next project.
I remember the first painting I ever sold was a watercolour of a bungalow painted back in 1987 for the sum of £30. Painted for a work colleague of my fathers, a painter and decorator, his house was called Dew Drop Inn. There was certainly no pleasure in it, or even a sense that the sale was a foretaste of good things to come, it was just rather annoying that the name of the picture stripped the picture of any element of artistic dignity: 'Watercolour of Dew Drop Inn'.
'The Long and Winding Road'
Back in the very early nineties, as a raw, hungry and thoroughly anonymous 22-year-old, I was inclined on occasions to pack three or four portraits in a rucksack and cycle off into the rural Sussex countryside. I was in search of clients and sought out areas in villages that looked like they might house art buying and sympathetic residents. Each house would be recorded in my notebook along with the response of its owner: yes, maybe, no response, never call again, etc. On one of these trips I was deep in the countryside when I arrived at a large property on a hill with a couple of gents talking near the entrance. I braced myself, walked up to the men and began my sales pitch. They listened patiently and responded by saying thanks so much for the invitation to buy and commission work, we're busy at present but definitely call back again. I never did and even now I don't really know why I didn't. Odd because the man was Paul McCartney.
'Different types of viewer'
Would one ever make any work if there were no audience, or is it all about validation from the viewer? The truth for us all surely exists somewhere between these two poles. There are many different types of viewer existing in my mind: the sympathetic viewer, someone already tuned into my visual frequency; the intelligent but not necessarily supportive viewer; and then there's the newcomer who may be an immediate convert but equally inclined to complete indifference at best. I suppose if I were to consider any as relevant to my interests, I'd claim the middle one.
I find it best to ignore most comments on my work except those from whom I most trust, it saves a lot of hassle and confusion.
On being elected to the New English Art Club
I joined in July 2017. It means the world to me. I've long thought how becoming a member of such a fine society would bestow a huge and lasting sense of satisfaction. My expectations have been more than met. Even though it's very early days I feel a great sense of artistic ease within what I see as the spirit of the New English Art Club.
What's in the pipeline?
I'm hoping to make another portrait DVD in August. Being the second time around I have a few ideas up my painting sleeve to attempt to improve upon the first one I made back in 2012. Town House Films are the makers and producers of the work.
Secondly, I must begin to prepare for next year’s Annual Exhibition!"