16 Stoddart Street

Newcastle upon Tyne


Daily 10am - 5pm

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In the Studio / James Fotheringhame

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James studied at both Nottingham Trent university and the Royal Academy of Art. He has exhibited at the Royal Academy and won prizes including, The Sunday Times watercolour competition.

He is currently a part time lecturer of painting at Warwickshire college, Leamington and also runs his own garden design business.

James met his wife, sculpture Rachel Higgins in Foundation at Leamington. They now live in a farmhouse which provides ample studio space and inspiration for two practising artists.

What inspires your work?

There is an element of painting that is just part of you. I learnt this when my garden design and construction business took over from the painter in me. Eventually, I made the decision to leave my own company to paint more. Curiosity for the natural world is what fuels my experiences and the paintings are a way to document them. I continue to design gardens and plant them but with a more creative leaning. The gardens that I have designed provide experiences that translate into my art.

The coast and remote places such as Scotland have also truly inspired my work. Holidays are the richest source of information and experience.

"Only at the outset do I compose, from then on, I orchestrate the paint, rarely dictating."

What is it about the natural world that holds such inspiration for you?

I have always been interested in collecting; cabinets of curiosities, skulls, casts, shells, fossils, seeds etc. I’ve also been fascinated by living things such as ladybirds in clusters, wasps and bees. For things that cannot be collected, I document in paint. Over the years, these paintings have become what I suppose is my collection, my way of owning experiences in a physical way.

It is the unrefined rawness of nature, the witnesses in the landscape and the transient and pure impact of an honest connection with nature that have always exhilarated my senses. It is a certain sensitivity for what happens in a permanent landscape, the encounter, the serendipity, the marking of time. That’s what I want to document physically with a painting, that memory of moment. Documenting the transient and distilling it to capture that sharp intake of breath when the unexpected appears - a barn owl, kingfisher and most recently, a flock of lapwing.

What informs the style you use in your work?

Time, impatience, experience. My style has developed in the last 6 years into what can only be described as painting as an event. The painting informs and dictates the journey of making a piece. Only at the outset do I compose, from then on, I orchestrate the paint, rarely dictating. Somewhat serendipitously, the result has a rawness that reflects my intent to portray the reality of experience and more importantly not to trivialise, make twee or glamourise nature. The image already exists in the form of a photograph - this only serves as a foundation to explore the possibilities of paint and the resulting painting.

"Only at the outset do I compose, from then on, I orchestrate the paint, rarely dictating."

Tell us about your studio space.

I spent 10 years or so documenting butterflies in the field on my wife’s family farm. Twenty-five years later, we now live in a farmhouse with some land. It has been a priority to encourage wildlife to this place with tree planting, introducing an orchard and letting the overly grazed fields breathe. The transformation is fantastic and inspiration is now on my doorstep. Barn owls, flocks of yellowhammers and goldfinch, foxes, deer, bats and birds. And, this year, butterflies and moths in numbers - I’m having a moth trap made as we speak.

My studio itself is somewhat unconventional being in a medieval house. It was used as a formal lounge and until recently still had the grandfather clock and other homely ornaments. There is still a Welsh dresser, bed warmers and a settle. I work flat as I use very dilute oil. It also helps the idea that the painting is being made, as manipulating the canvas directionally is a major part of the process. Needless to say, the table I work on has been here forever. Both mine and Rachel’s studios take up one half of the house and are a major part of our lives here. The kids find our lifestyle somewhat odd. It is a huge privilege to live here and hugely inspirational.

Describe your creative process.

I have very little time to paint, what with garden design, teaching and two teenagers. I prepare meticulously, getting the scale and composition right. The days I do paint are precious, so being in the right frame of mind is crucial. I work myself up to a painting and as I said earlier it becomes an event. My background in watercolour has stood me in good stead for painting in this way as it has to be disciplined. Watercolour generally needs to be created from start to finish, wet to dry. The difference with oils is it doesn’t dry like that, therefore experience with application and technique are the key factors. Orchestrating oils without muddying the colours in one or two goes is precarious but I believe the preciousness of the painting is all the richer for this. The resulting rawness of the painting reflects my intent and reflects a certain honesty - it is a painting of a bird not an attempt to capture a perfect specimen image.

Which artist’s work do you admire?

I would have to mention David Measures, a tutor of mine at Nottingham. A documenter predominantly of butterflies but a true naturalist, passionate, raw and honest. An obvious choice, but I admire some of Kurt Jackson’s work, again for its raw honesty.

Do you have a favourite piece of artwork?

The goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.

James' work is still available to buy, with pieces online and in the gallery. Spread the cost of your favourite pieces over £100 with OwnArt.

If you would like to find out more about James Fotheringhame and his work, please contact the gallery.

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