James Smith: Adelaide's very own Andy Warhol
James Smith should get the quote “Art is for anyone. It just isn't for everyone," by American art critic Jerry Saltz, tattooed on him. Not only because the words inspire him, but the quote’s embedded nonchalance and quiet confidence do an excellent job of describing both the art and the artist.
The 28-year-old Adelaidean’s art is quirky, unusual, and extremely colourful, and has catapulted him into the ranks of generation next artists worth paying attention to. The display of his unconventional artworks at the recently concluded Adelaide Fringe had quickly become a festival favourite, garnering numerous fans.
TAL caught up with the Fringe debutante to discuss the inspirations behind his unique artwork, his love for Adelaide, and his aspirations.
A familial trait
The Smith family’s love affair with art started with James’s grandfather. “He was my first inspiration. I stumbled upon some art pieces he had drawn and was enchanted by them. I knew I wanted to do something similar. When my grandpa found out about my interest, he was only too happy to mentor me. With his help, I learnt basic drawing concepts, and slowly, after hours of practice, I became confident enough to indulge in painting by the time I reached Primary School," he says.
James’s drawings are unique and different - they include robotic looking cats, disfigured human head with one ear and hypnotic gaze, to name a few.
His strange art themes and usage of bright colours more often than not conjure up images created by the timeless rebels of the art world like Andy Warhol. Unsurprisingly, Warhol also happens to be one of James’ role models. “I have been inspired by Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Noel Fielding. I flew to London last year to the unprecedented ‘Basquiat Boom For Real’ exhibition. The entire gallery was filled with Basquiat’s most famous pieces - even the collaborations he did with Keith Haring and Warhol. It was one of the most amazing experiences!” he adds.
Enthused and moved by the experience, James decided to create a display along similar lines for his first ever Adelaide Fringe outing – that opened to rave reviews.
“This was my first time exhibiting with The Adelaide Fringe. It’s been an amazing experience. Majority of my pieces are displayed at Raj House, and I have one other piece at BRKLYN Bar,” he says.
One of the most talked about of his works is a mural he painted inside the RAJ House. “That was the absolute highlight and was well received from everyone!” he adds.
“I am currently working on a project with a small company called Bangle Bag. They are developing environmentally friendly shopping bags made from hemp and want me to create a piece on their bags to help convey a message about the importance of being eco-friendly," he continues.
Given the nonconformity of his work, James is aware that his art may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
“I follow the Jerry Saltz’s quote and leave my art open to interpretations. I know my work resonates with many art aficionados. And those who don't like my work, well, it is just not for them. However, It is always good to hear peoples’ thoughts and opinions. I have to remember that I am still growing and learning as an artist. The evolution Is not over yet! ," he adds.
A form of therapy
For the artist and amateur photographer, art is like therapy. “Art is an escape. When times are tough or stressful, I draw and paint to escape those negative feelings. It enables me to bring back my focus to my work. It’s my medicine,” he says.
And, when he is not getting down and dirty with paints, James loves photography. "I love taking pictures and take my camera with me to the Adelaide Hills to capture some good photos. Recently, I travelled to the Galapagos Islands, Brazil, Argentina, Paris and London to take snaps of wildlife, urban life and the surrounding environment. It was fantastic,” he says.
Being an Adelaidean artist
James adds that few places in the world provide an artist with the freedom to experiment like Adelaide. “Even though Adelaide is a small city, we have a large community of artists, and it provides exciting places for artists to display their works. Raj House is a good example. They’re a creative hub that embraces arts and allows artists of all kinds to use their space in a creative manner," he explains.
The Adelaidean has a simple advice for aspiring artists. “Work hard at what you do. Grab hold of any opportunities, and remember to network as much as you can!”
Follow the up and coming artist on Instagram.