About

JAMES BARTHOLOMEW RSMA

“I am fascinated by the interplay between a subject and light and how changing weather can alter the essence of something so completely.”
 
Since 1992, James has worked as a contemporary landscape and seascape painter.  He has a strong reputation within the British contemporary art market and his recognisable, ‘loose and energetic’ style has gained widespread acclaim. Strong light and colour are often central to James’ paintings and dynamic viewpoints are a feature in many.
 
He was made a full member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists (RSMA) in 2002 and his work has also received several notable awards; most recently the Kenneth Denton Award for his painting ‘Atlantic Blue 4’ (RSMA Annual Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London, October 2018).
 
Alongside his own gallery (Mill House Gallery in Lancashire - now in it’s 22nd year), James has been represented by several leading UK galleries. He also exhibits regularly at the Federation of British Artists’ society shows. His work is found in both private and corporate collections around the world.
 
Selected commissioning clients:
Waitrose, BBC, The Sunday Times, British Tourist Authority.
 
 
Selected awards:
Laing Landscape Art Prize
Sir Peter Scott Award
Charles Pears Award (RSMA Annual Exhibition)
The Arts Club Award
Artist Magazine Award
Kenneth Denton Award (RSMA Annual Exhibition)
 
 
Recent solo exhibitions:
Clarendon Fine Art, Dover Street, London (2015)
Whitewall Galleries, Marlow, Guildford and Cobham (2016)
Mill House Gallery - New paintings in acrylic (2017)
 
 
Artist statement
The things I paint are basically the things I love. From breaking waves on the Cornish coast at first light, to vibrant, crumbling Venetian facades. From a storm arriving into a sharply lit Lakeland valley, to a drooling 1000kg Hereford bull!
 
I have a love for the outdoors, for animals and for nature in general. I am fascinated by the interplay between a subject and light and how changing weather can alter the essence of something so completely. Strong light, and the resulting colours and shadows, are often the inspiration and form the starting point for a picture
 
While my paintings cover several subjects, the approach is fairly consistent. The way I paint is quite energetic, with gestural, spontaneous marks and sweeping strokes. Since many of the subjects I choose are ‘moving’ (sea, skies, animals), the marks hopefully convey some of this motion and energy and give the paintings their liveliness.
 
I work on a comparatively large scale (typically 70cm x 50cm or bigger) which allows for a loose approach. Much smaller and I find the process becomes a bit fiddly! I mostly work in pastel & watercolour together, the mediums soon becoming mixed up. The pastel will sometimes get wet and moved around within the paint, becoming simply a pigment. Other times it is used over the top of the dry paint. Through this method, the vibrancy can be reintroduced with the pastels and the painting can be changed at any stage. This leaves plenty of room to experiment on the surface without worrying about spoiling the painting, which I find quite liberating.
 
I have also recently discovered a new love for painting in acrylic. I find the vibrancy and depth of the pigments particularly good for my marine subjects and the intense hues sometimes found when sun combines with sea water.
 
I try to create paintings that are as uplifting and inspiring as the subjects are to me and to convey the energy and vibrancy that draw me to them.
 
 
I spend as much time as possible outdoors and when I’m not painting, I enjoy running, competing in triathlons or canoeing, usually with my family and my little Springer Spaniel, Jess, who comes with me pretty much everywhere.
 
 
 
Further reading
Below are a series of questions posed to James in a recent interview:
 
  1. When did you start painting or have you always painted? Where/how did you train/study?

It was relatively late when I started painting. I hadn’t done art at school and only developed an interest during a Design Tech A level while illustrating my final project. I then did an art foundation followed by a degree in Graphic Design at Leicester Polytechnic (now de Montfort University).

 

  1. Are you a full-time artist or do you have another job? If you're full-time, did you have a job before?

Very soon after leaving college I rented a studio in an old mill. It cost £25 a week which was £25 a week more than I would sometimes earn! The thinking was that if I made that commitment, I would have to make it work and that was a great motivator. That was 26 years ago and I’ve worked as a full-time artist ever since.

 

  1. Was it a difficult decision? Did you, for instance, have a family/responsibilities by then – or any other concerns/difficulties?

It’s hard to get going as a professional artist or illustrator because people often need the reassurance of published work or other signs of success in order to believe in you. Classic catch 22! Eventually, a break comes along and the ball starts to roll. Financially, I’d been a student so was used to living off very little.

 

  1. Where do you work? In a studio – and if so, is this separate from your home, what's it like?

My studio is part of my gallery premises in an 18th century windmill. I’ve now been here for 21 years and gradually expanded into the surrounding mill buildings. I’ve always found it helpful to ‘go to work’ rather than work from home as it makes me feel differently about what I do. I’m very lucky to have such an interesting building to work from on the bank of the Leeds Liverpool canal and I live 10 minutes away from work (20 minutes if I run, 30 minutes if I canoe!), with my wife, 2 kids and Springer Spaniel ‘Jess’. Jess is only 2 but travels with me wherever I go. She’s already knows what the sea tastes like along most of Cornwall’s coast!

 

  1. What materials do you prefer? I think you use watercolours and pastel? Is this chalk pastel?

I mostly use gouache & chalk pastel together. The pastel often gets mixed into the paint but I like the contrasting effects that are possible when the two media are combined. Muted washes overlayed with vibrant scratchy marks.

 

  1. How did you come to use that combination of materials? Do you use other paints as well?

I used to find the unforgiving nature of watercolour a bit limiting so introduced the pastel as an experiment. Used too little, it looks a bit like you’re covering up mistakes but used more extensively, you can really play around with it and experimet on the surface, which is quite liberating.

  

  1. What is your working process? For e.g. do you paint your complete image with watercolours and when that's dry, apply the pastels?

The paint has to be dry to apply the pastel but then the pastel will sometimes get wet and move around with the paint. I’ll scrape it, smudge it, erase it and paint over it until it looks right, switching regularly from paint to pastel and back again.

 

  1. Your compositions are quite dynamic and energetic. How do you decide on your compositions to convey this?

    I often use a camera to explore a subject and experiment with compositions. There’s a slightly unpredictable aspect to taking lots of shots while changing the exposure, angle and crop, which sometimes leads to something quite interesting.

 

  1. Is dynamism your primary focus, or, for e.g. light, colour, tone, drama? 

When I come across a subject that I’d like to paint, I try to identify what it is that drew my interest. That then becomes the starting point and my focus for the picture. It might be the colour, it might be a dynamic composition or just an interesting light.

 

  1. How pre-planned are your compositions? Do any 'just happen,' do they change as you work, or do you always plan and prepare everything carefully?

I make a 10 or 20 second sketch onto the surface to loosely block out the composition. This is deliberately quick to keep the painting fresh and spontaneous like a study, rather than a carefully ‘filled in’ drawing.

 

  1. Do you prepare carefully or not? For instance, make sketches, take photos?

I spend considerable time with all the subjects I paint, whether it be a breaking wave or a cow in a field. This time is vital to play around with perspectives and angles, to form ideas and to become familiar with the subject. I find the camera extremely useful here for framing off compositions and pausing moments, as well as providing a series of ‘thumbnails’ where compositions and colours can be compared.

 

  1. Do you have particular compositional arrangements that you return to?

Not really but I do like to lead the viewer in to the picture with things placed at different depths on the plane. Rocks in the foreground of a seascape or long grass at the front of a landscape are things I find I use a lot.

 

  1. Do you have a set palette that you prefer? What about brushes or other materials – any favourites or unusual materials that work for you?

Most of my brushes are an assortment of battered and mis-shapen relics. They’re like an old pair of slippers that I’ve got too familiar with. When I do buy new ones I buy the biggest available, usually mops or large flat ones with lots of holding capacity. I sometimes use blunt Stanley blades and squares of plastic to scrape off areas of wet paint and pastel.

 

  1. Are all your paintings fairly large? Have you always worked on a large-scale?

I much prefer working on a large scale. It forces me to work more quickly and the marks tend to be more prominent and gestural.

 

  1. How long, on average, does a painting take you to complete, would you say?

Every one’s different. Some paintings are on the easel for weeks and go round and round in circles. Others seem to happen very quickly and don’t need any fussing. I nearly always prefer the latter – it’s really hard to stop a painting looking overworked when it goes on too long.

 

  1. Do you paint one picture at a time, or do you have several on the go at once?

I paint a few at a time. It’s useful to leave one alone for a while and return to it with a fresh pair of eyes.

 

  1. Do you have a particular order of painting, e.g. background first or maybe you paint a little bit across the work all the time?

I start with a colour wash over the whole surface and this sets a theme for the painting. The way everything else is done after that is dictated by the subject and is different every time.

 

  1. Do you know when you have finished: that is, when to step back from a painting and leave it alone?

Many years ago, I was asked to produce several paintings for ‘step by step’ guides. The artwork was photographed at regular intervals while a writer took notes and asked questions. When the magazines were published and I saw the sequence of photos, almost without exception, I saw that I should have stopped several stages before I did! It was a valuable lesson in the ‘less is more’ rule and I’m careful not to overwork things now.

 

  1. Did your style evolve unconsciously or consciously – and when did you begin painting in your current, personal way? Would you say your style is still evolving?

Mostly unconsciously. When I try to change the way I work I seem to hit a bit of a brick wall after a while and resort to what I know in order to resolve it. That said, I’m constantly trying to push what I do and there are small shifts in approach here and there. I’d like to think there will be more shifts ahead!

 

  1. What other artists do you admire; have any particularly influenced you – and if so, who and in what ways?

Most of the artists I like are very contemporary – I love strong colours and abstracted marks. David Tress, Michael Honor and Neil Canning are particular favourites. They inspire elements of my work but I don’t try to mimick them.

 

  1. Do you find it easier to work for yourself – that is, freely, or do you prefer the discipline (and knowing that you'll be paid) of working for commissions?

I like a combination of both. One makes the other more interesting.

 

  1. Do you exhibit much and/or enter many competitions? What's the best thing for you about exhibiting? And what's the worst?

I exhibit all the time in my own gallery and in a few others around the UK. I also find it very motivating to have an event to work towards as it helps to keep a bit of pace and momentum to the process which I find helpful.

 

  1. What are the most difficult aspects for you about painting?

Being on my own most of the time.

 

  1. And the most enjoyable?

Being on my own most of the time!

 

  1. Do you have plans for the future that you could share with readers?

I love the travel aspect of my work and since I seem to produce the best work when I’ve just been on a trip, I know I should get away more. I’m hoping to get to Hawaii very soon and also to do some more work in southern France.  

 

Full interview to be published in 'The Artist' magazine, December 2018.

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