James Mortimer is a 27-year-old artist and sculptor from Bath. Described as Dutch master meets Oscar Wilde meets Pete Doherty, his 2015 solo show of paintings at the Catto Gallery in London made such an impact that the Independent’s art critic, Charlotte Cripps, dubbed him ‘one to watch.’
Born and brought up in Swindon, Wiltshire, James has an artistic lineage – most notably, the 18th century painter and etcher, John Hamilton Mortimer. He studied sculpture at the Bath School of Art and Design under the tutelage of, among others, Gavin Turk, a pioneer of many forms of contemporary British sculpture. Central to his degree show was a large risqué sculpture of two men and a woman in an act of passion; ‘The Great Penetration’ won him the Kenneth Armitage Prize.
James, who sold his first painting while studying Art and the History of Art at New College in Swindon, has had made a considerable mark on the art world with more than 20 exhibitions at fairs and galleries including Hampstead’s Catto gallery, the James Freeman gallery in Islington and the Accesso gallery in Pietrasanta, Italy.
His provocative style challenges the viewer with images of decadence, aggression, sexuality and fantastical creatures. His art is inspired by a love of the ridiculous and is the antithesis of the British reserve in which he was brought up.
Self taught or art school?
I’m self-taught as a painter but studied sculpture at art school. I always preferred learning on my own, but with sculpture I like talking to people while I’m at it, and it’s useful to have all the facilities on hand. I had a great time there – everyone should go to art school.
If you could own one work of art what would it be?
It changes, but for some reason right now I’d like to own Duchamp’s Large Glass.
Where are your favourite places to view art?
Art museums. But the best one of those would be the Prado – I was in Madrid on my own a while ago and spent an entire day in there, stopping only for lunch. And in the UK, aside from the obvious ones, my favourite museums are the John Soane and the Wallace Collection.
Who are your favourite artists and why?
Dead ones – Michaelangelo and Picasso, for their energy and versatility, and Gustave Moreau and Goya for their individuality.
Alive – Anselm Kiefer, for his vision and audacious scale. Anyone who buys a decommissioned Nuclear Power station for art must be a genius.
Where’s your studio and what’s it like?
It’s a room in my flat and is a sort of large echoing chamber with big windows overlooking a verdant garden. I moved here so I could make big works; in my last studio I could reach out and touch both sides of the room at the same time, which was something of a restriction.
Do you have any studio rituals?
I always begin a new series of work by eating a delicious lobster, drinking a large glass of something, and smoking a good cigar. Then, when I’m completely relaxed, I sit down and sketch furiously.
What are you working on currently?
I’m just finishing several paintings for the end of the month, one of them a great big six-foot monstrosity which has been driving me mad and is, mercifully, almost done.
Where can we buy your art?
Right now editions of my sculptures in bronze are at the Catto Gallery in Hampstead, and I am also exhibiting a new series of paintings at the James Freeman Gallery in Islington from September.
What are your ambitions?
Aside from always improving on whatever I’ve just done, I don’t plan very far ahead. My main mission in life until recently was to own a taxidermy giraffe, but I’ve done that now and can’t think of anything to top it.
What or who inspires your art?
Everything probably – I’m not very discerning. If something or someone strikes me as interesting or beautiful I’ll draw it. But sometimes I do get preoccupied by one particular thing for whatever reason – last year I went to Costa Rica to see the jungles and ended up obsessively drawing palm trees.