Artist profile: Canterbury’s James Bland

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:57 04 March 2019

James Bland (photo: Manu Palomeque)

James Bland (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Canterbury artist James Bland on figurative painting and the alchemy of oils

Based in a spare bedroom at his house near Canterbury, artist James Bland plies his trade. The room has a lot of direct light throughout winter as it is west facing. The light changes, which James loves.

James has been based here since 2007, following a year spent in Padua, where he studied art history while also teaching English. He now teaches art in London and tells me: “I love the energy and vitality of life in the capital, but I don’t think I could live there.”

He prefers Kent for the nature and ‘the fact that we have more countryside than people assume for such a populated part of the country.’ He lives near Blean Woods, and enjoys the proximity of the coast as well.

I ask if James had an epiphany when he knew he had to be an artist. “I drew and painted in watercolour as a child, but discovering some of my dad’s old oil paint when I was a teenager was a revelation. It was such a natural thing to work with and I even liked the smell of the linseed oil and the different pigments.”

James Bland (photo: Manu Palomeque)James Bland (photo: Manu Palomeque)

James has no introductory ritual to starting a project, but does think about an idea for quite a while, and hopes to be alone in the early stages.

“There’s almost always an idea that stays the same, but I like to stay open to the random things that happen on the canvas and not be too controlling of the direction the painting takes.”

His subject matter is most often representational: “Figure paintings, paintings about memory, narrative paintings and paintings done sometimes over a long time with a model,” he says.

Painting mostly in oil, he adds: “It has organic properties that are different from other paint. It dries more slowly and dries differently by oxidation, forming a skin which changes over time, like alchemy.

James Bland (photo: Manu Palomeque)James Bland (photo: Manu Palomeque)

“It lets you work with it longer than other media. Even after drying it can be scraped back and the paint continues to react with air for months. It’s like playing with mud.”

Asked how he knows when to stop, James says with some emphasis: “I don’t!” Despite not having a ritual, James says that he will do some sketches for a painting, but that they are more like notes. He will plan a painting, drawing first with thin paint for a while before putting colour on.

James is a vivacious colourist and his paintings use a variety of synthetic brushes and some sable riggers. The effect is often like using a palette knife.

If he ever had to paint in just one colour, James would choose lemon yellow. “Michael Harding Lemon Yellow, made from barium, a heavy metallic pigment is a great one. It makes me happy.” We chat for a while about Kandinsky, who had a theory that yellow was the most spiritual colour.

James Bland in his home studio near Canterbury (photo: Manu Palomeque)James Bland in his home studio near Canterbury (photo: Manu Palomeque)

We talk about James’ subjects and which he regards as his most exciting work. “As well as painting from life, I’ve always really wanted to paint from memory.

“After about 10 years of trying to paint a childhood memory of a fairground, I finally had some success with it this year,” he says.

“I’ve seen photos of fairgrounds that explain all the facts, but with none of the sensation of being there, so I avoided making photographic references and just relied on memory.”

His works are in varying sizes and James mainly paints on linen canvas, enjoying experimenting with different approaches and styles.

James’ artistic heroes start with the unknown artists who made the cave paintings at Lascaux. He also admires the writings of Van Gogh and his letters, which he has recently seen at the Royal Academy.

James was formally trained but notes that today you can learn from artists all over the world, thanks to the internet and the most important thing is to learn from other artists.

To a young artist starting out, his advice is that you have to be prepared to paint something to death, almost be willing to destroy it, in order to work out why the image is or is not working.

And that having your work copied is almost a rite of passage in becoming an artist.

Find out more

Find James Bland’s gallery of works at: www.jamesblandpaintings.com

More from Out & About

34 minutes ago

Dramatic landscapes, grand castles and historic locations have made Kent the perfect setting for many iconic films and TV programme. Here are 21 different movies and television programmes that made use of the Garden of England

Read more

Flint, ragstone and timber – these are the materials that built Kent and gave it its distinctive face. Here we explore some fine local examples

Read more

April sees the bicentenary of the death of William Mudge, the brilliant soldier turned surveyor responsible for the first map to be produced by the Ordnance Survey – and it was of Kent

Read more

Kent Life looks at the environmental impact of the clothes we wear and why we need to be checking our shopping habits and wardrobes

Read more
Monday, March 30, 2020

We’ve teamed up with Island Cottage Holidays and Isle of Wight Distillery to offer one lucky winner the chance to win £500 of holiday vouchers and a gin set

Read more
Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Animals are always a source of joy so we have gathered some zoos and wildlife parks across the country (and beyond) that are livestreaming animal enclosures

Read more
ThereWithYou

Towered over by its iconic cathedral, the streets of this city have so many stories to tell

Read more

With Ash dieback on the increase, we look at how a Kent project is celebrating this much-loved tree’s special place in local culture

Read more
Monday, March 23, 2020

Thanks to the Guardians of the Deep project, Kent now has 11 Marine Conservation Zones

Read more
Friday, March 20, 2020

Kent has many castles and stately homes, but we have hand selected the ten best castles in Kent for you to visit

Read more
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook


Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life