James Tebbutt is an artist from Northampton, England, whose painting Everything’s Fine was shortlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2019. His art is a striking mix of abstraction and figuration, combining the playful and often liberal application of paint with hard edges and symbols of contemporary culture, cartoons and urban influences. His colourful splodges and wispy marks act as a visual glossary of painterly styles and techniques, pointing to the likes of Kandinsky, Fiona Rae, and even de Kooning. We spoke with James to find out more about his process, the materials he uses, and how he develops his work.
Daniel: Hi James, please tell us a little bit about your artistic background/education.
James: Well, the biggest influence on me was my secondary school art teacher, Terry Raybould, who has recently passed away. He studied at Camberwell School of Art and was taught by Frank Auerbach and his Euston Road School contemporaries.
After I left school I did my foundation at Northampton University and then went on to do my BA at Coventry School of Art and Design, where I guess the influences were more subtle, in terms of being noticeable at the time, but shaped how I paint now.
Daniel: When I look at your paintings I sense a real enjoyment and exploration of the paint itself. How central is this to your practice?
James: I guess it’s very central. I enjoy all the different things paint can do and what you can do with it, as well as the behaviour of different types of paint.
This playful interrogation, along with the consideration of how the various elements interact, is how my paintings come into existence.
The physical process is very important. It’s the making of the paintings that I take pleasure in the most.
Sometimes I can be painting a neat, flat element that takes care and thought, and other times I can be throwing paint or making a gestural mark. If my work contained just one of those processes, I think I would get bored too quickly.
Daniel: I understand that some of your work evolves through a stream of consciousness type process. In terms of composition and colour, do you typically jump straight in, or do you spend time preparing works?
James: I think I mostly jump straight in! Occasionally I’ll do a preparatory sketch, usually using Photoshop, to give me an idea of a colour scheme and general composition, but due to the nature of my process the work often ends up quite different!
Daniel: The subject matter in some of your works appears to be drawn from a wide variety of sources. Could you talk about how these motifs find their way onto your canvas?
James: As much as mixing processes is important to me, so is mixing subject matter. One of the influences I can remember from my post-school art education was the introduction to postmodernist painters like David Salle and Sigmar Polke. I loved the fact you didn’t need to decide to paint one way or another and could even mix things up on one canvas.
I try and keep my motifs more abstract. I used to use more figurative elements, but I didn’t like the narrative they would give a painting.
I want the paintings to speak for themselves and not to have a subject matter other than that of painting. Painting for painting’s sake, I guess. And to try and create an interesting object at the end.
Daniel: There is a confidence to your work which seems like no medium, colour or painting style is out of the question. What inspires you to tackle and combine these contrasting elements so directly?
James: I guess the wish to experiment, the desire to try things out and the enjoyment of the juxtapositions inspires me to be direct.
There’s something quite thrilling about spending time painting something neatly then throwing paint at it or making a gestural mark over it. Conversely, it can also be appealing to paint neat stripes or crisp circles over an area of drips, splashes and brush marks.
Daniel: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
James: Aside from the paint and surface themselves, I have a good selection of large brushes, masking tape, long rulers, a large pair of compasses and a circle cutter. All are needed on most paintings.
Daniel: What is a good day in the studio for you?
James: Ha, I’d love a good day in the studio. I have a full-time job and young children, so grabbing a few hours in the evening is an achievement!
Daniel: And when you do get the time, do you listen to music, audiobooks, Radio 4, or do you prefer to work in silence?
James: I listen to music while I paint, every time. But I listen to music a lot; in the car, at work and around the house.
Daniel: Your style seems to reach in and out of different art movements. What are your artistic influences, and who are some of your favourite contemporary artists?
James: Artists like Salle and Polke, as I mentioned, were influences as well as my secondary school art teacher. I’ve loved so many different artists and movements over my life, it’s probably where my eclectic painting style comes from; not being able to settle on one thing.
I love Sarah Morris and Peter Halley’s bold, hard-edged work. I also love Christine Streuli, Albert Oehlen and Fiona Rae, for contemporary painters who mix in more gestural elements with other motifs.
Daniel: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?
James: I’m in a group show, MK Calling at Milton Keynes Gallery in the new year. You can see lots of work in progress shots on my Instagram and finished works are uploaded to my website and to my Saatchi Art page fairly regularly.
Click here to find out more about Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020
Featured Image: Love is Free, 2018, James Tebbutt, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 80 cm.