About the Artist ~ James Watkins
New Zealand-raised, Mexico City-based artist James Watkins is exemplary of the 'worldly artist'. An arts journalist, photographer, and painter, James' work and practice have taken him across Australasia, Europe and, currently, Mexico.
James' abstract expressionist paintings are of a highly organic nature, using the natural world as a primary influence. His large canvases typically feature organic shapes overlaid on colour-blocking which have intensity in pigment, and softness in form.
His canvases are densely layered, with many works beneath. There's an almost unsystematic approach to his style of making art - old paints are left in their trays to be mixed with the new; strokes, sprays, marks, and drawings are added to the canvases without a second thought. The paintings are continually evolving, attachment is avoided.
James is a highly charismatic and positive individual - his artistic practice is infused with appreciation and joy. You can sense this optimism and love of life in his work. His views on painting are refreshingly simple - making art should be fun.
James Watkins: I've been into reading for as long as I can remember. This sort of translated in my early 20s into writing, and editing, primarily about painting and music.
I fell in love with photography, my first visual medium, around 18 or 19. This was before camera phones were a thing, so if you wanted to make images, you needed a camera. I had a weird epiphany one morning watching a sunrise that I needed to take photos, so I saved up and bought a nice one, and just kept going.
With the arts journalism stuff, I ended up befriending a lot of painters in my mid-20s, which is when I started painting. Before that, I had no experience in drawing or painting, which proves, that it's never too late to start!
JW: I think anything we do, see, or have exposure to goes into the mix and comes out in some way. To be honest, I haven't been consciously responding to the city, as all my recent paintings are totally subconscious, or at least, as subconscious as possible. I'm sure in some way, the colours, textures, smells, sounds, plants, people, and atmosphere of this city are contributing to the work. I am, after all, painting the works here.
JW: Mostly Marcel Proust, a French writer from the early 20th century. I've never come across any artist in any medium who can world-build with such detail and appreciation for the environment around him. He's definitely worth a look. I also write about a lot of painters, basically every day, so I'm in contact with a lot of paintings. Often I see a mark, or approach, or colour scheme that I like. Sometimes those thoughts or feelings pop into my head whilst painting but it's not too prescriptive or obvious, more just a sensibility that I dig. If I can remember it, it probably means something.
JW: I'm more into colour combinations - red and blue, blue and brown... pink and blue.... red and green... orange and green - you know, all the good ones.
JW: I always listen to music when I paint. Most of the time with noise cancelling headphones as it allows me to really lull myself into deeply meditative and subconscious states. A lot of deep house - Fred P is great - a lot of jazz, hip hop. I'm very into building giant playlists of music that I have never heard and listening to them on random. The new Fat Jon album was nice.
JW: A blank canvas.
BN: How does the natural world inform your work?
JW: I mean, nature is perfect. Nature is divine. Nature is everything. We are nature... I'm constantly in awe of its perfection, its beauty, its forms, its colours. How does the natural world inform my work? I am the natural world.
JW: Just keep painting here in Mexico City and hope for the best.
James' studio in Mexico City.