James Kearns relocates to New England

Don't call them abstract: James Kearns, pictured here at his exhibition opening last week, says his landscapes are 'environment' paintings. Photo: Vanessa Arundale
Don't call them abstract: James Kearns, pictured here at his exhibition opening last week, says his landscapes are 'environment' paintings. Photo: Vanessa Arundale

James Kearns moved to Armidale from Moree in the last month and his work is currently on show at the Walcha Gallery of Art.

The current exhibition is the second Mr Kearns has held in Walcha.

“Having artists like Angus Nivison critique my art is like a drug for me,” Mr Kearns said. 

“This helped me choose Armidale as a place to live and paint because I know there are incredible artists, whose work I respect highly, just down the road in Walcha. It made my decision to have an exhibition there immediately very easy, and I'm very appreciative that Carley McLaren of the Walcha Gallery made this happen so quickly.”

PROVING A POINT: One of James Kearns' earlier figurative works featuring surrounding livestock which he says he created to demonstrate his drawing ability.

PROVING A POINT: One of James Kearns' earlier figurative works featuring surrounding livestock which he says he created to demonstrate his drawing ability.

Mr Kearns said the opening of his show last week confirmed he had made the right move, both geographically and professionally.

“It was exactly what I needed in terms of reassurance that I'm on the right track with my new abstract work,” he said. 

“I started my art career painting very figuratively with subjects like bulls and other animals that were around me at the time in Walgett - just to prove I can draw well and I'm not just a random abstract painter. But now my true art is coming out .”

Mr Kearns cited  Luke Sciberras ,Ben Quilty and Carlos Barrios as some of the artists he admired.

“Ooh and probably one of my biggest influences is children’s art,” he said.

“It is so raw and honest until they get slapped on the wrist at school for drawing outside the lines.”

The 36-year-old self-taught creative says he has drawn and painted since he can remember. 

“I remember being jealous of a student drawing a better astronaut than me at the age of five,” he said. 

“He's now a great painter, Nick Fintan.”

With a father who was a doctor, Mr Kearns grew up in Sydney visiting art galleries and watching operas but says he didn’t feel being an artist was a career option that would meet his parent's expectations.

“I studied graphic design and advertising and ended up having quite a successful career,” he said. 

“But I just had to paint again, so I quit my job when I turned 30 and locked myself away for a year to paint. I was living in a community of great artists in Robertson, in the Southern Highlands, which is where my dad grew up.”

The gallery Mr Kearns was with at the time sent him to Moree for an exhibition which resulted in a long term art residency under Katrina Rumley.

“ I met a gorgeous girl, had a beautiful child and stayed in Moree for five years,” Mr Kearns said.

“The relationship ended and I decided to move to a place that was better for my own well being about a month ago.”

Moree and the New England region are almost polar opposites in landscape in Mr Kearns’ view.

“I struggled to capture the Moree landscape initially but I feel I semi conquered it eventually and it really helped my art to look beyond the physical aspect of an environment and develop a visual language that is more a 'feeling' of the place,” he said.

“I prefer to call my landscapes 'environment' paintings as opposed to abstract landscapes. The colours, the temperature, the sounds, textures, people, mood, everything plays a part in my paintings now.”

Spending most of his days at water holes around Armidale Mr Kearns says he feels connected to one in particular and his current works are based around these places.