Byron Bay is renowned for being a hub of art and creativity, inspired by the sensational surf and pristine coastline. Here at Driftlab we love to support our local artist kin and this month we are featuring the work of charismatic painter and illustrator, James McMillan. James‘ work has been featured to promote community organized Byron Bay Surf Festival as well as in several galleries and exhibitions across Australia, Japan, and LA. His eclectic array of mediums and moods makes this dynamic artist someone we can’t get enough of. We sat down with James and asked a few questions about his life, inspirations, and history of his craft.
Driftlab: What inspires you to create? Your work often juxtaposes bright, happy color palettes with drippy, moody, textures and imagery. What kind of mood for you produces what style of work?
James McMillan: I´m generally positive, but hidden is the moody me, and that comes from being sensitive, which feeds my art. 10 years ago they would’ve called me a snag (sensitive new age guy), nowadays sensitivity in blokes seems a little more common, which I think is part of a change in consciousness. Inspiration to create; I´m not great at short answers but I’ll try… Inspiration is an interesting one because there´s two types, the inspiration that hits like a revelation, and then the inspiration that you try to stir up, like me when I have art deadlines. The revelation one seems to hit me quite often. Basically I wake up open my eyes look outside and soon enough I’m inspired. It doesn’t take much, sometimes it´s just the colour of light coming through a window. At 6am it’s a toss-up to go surf or head downstairs to the studio and fiddle with some paintings or pen down some future ideas. And the stir-up inspiration…Well, I’m kind of a nerd who likes to read, and I like to be stirred deep. I like my thinking and my ideas to be challenged, so I’ll usually reach for some type of spiritual literature, something about Jesus or any book by Joseph Campbell or Paramahansa Yogananda. Through a series of traumatic events I wound up living in a timber cabin high on a mountain in the forest behind Mullumbimby. I didn’t see many people, and in the valley below large flocks of birds would regularly circle by. It wouldn’t matter what mood I was in, the same colour palette and imagery would appear on the canvas. Since then, and for the past 10 years I’ve been painting and exhibiting the waterbird collection which has naturally come out as my life has unfolded. And now as my life changes, my art changes, and this new collection is an evolvement of that.
DL: We love your mix of mediums and the layering effect you create. What are you favorite mediums and how long have you been experimenting with them?
JM: Since around 2002 I´ve always worked with acrylic paint, Indian ink and spray-paint, and usually always on large size canvas. My Dad used to paint with oils and some years after he passed away all his gear was handed to me. I tried oils once but couldn´t stand to wait for the drying of layers, and it didn’t at all suit my techniques. I really like to interact with my work and join in with the unfolding of the painting. I like to have fun with it. I like watching the paint drip and then merging other colours with it. Acrylic dries quite fast, especially in summer, sometimes in a matter of minutes, so with that I can layer textures and imagery on one side of the painting while the other side dries. For this god/surf collection, as mentioned earlier, things have evolved. I have been painting onto plywood and I’ve also introduced resin to some of my work. I did a carpentry trade when I first left school at age 16. I´ve always enjoyed working with wood. And the resin comes from surfing. 2 years ago Stuart Darcy from Darcy surfboards offered me a chance to design a signature model surfboard with my name on it. I called it the ´waterbird´model. When the board was released I made some small circle art pieces on plywood with a bird logo on it and I then sealed them with resin. I called them fragments; as in they were a fragment of my typical much larger pieces. This started me on a journey with my art that I’m currently moving with and is seen in god/surf.
DL: The thick, bold brush strokes and vibrant colors of your work have a juvenile, nostalgic feel while the finer lifework and subject matter evoke a mature and even dark disposition. Does this reflect any personal ideals of the purity of childhood and the struggles of being an adult?
JM: The way my paintings happen is kind of like sitting out the back waiting for a set wave. I know a wave is going to come but I don´t know when, or how I will surf it, I just know that it´s going to happen. I usually meditate a little before painting and then I throw a bit of colour down to begin. When I was a kid growing up in Cronulla beach I was into punk rock and going against the grain of whatever. We surfed down south, skated the streets and listened to noisy music. One of my favourite art things as a teenager used to be to de-face cheesy magazine covers with textas and paint. I still love doing it now. It´s kind of how I set things right. It´s fun, and that rebel is still in me. But that´s not what I choose to paint. My paintings come from a truth place. It may be an idealistic place or it may be a place where my spirit dwells. Either way it´s a true reflection of how I personally experience life. The backgrounds I paint are more childlike and fun, and they usually play some part in directing the final layers of a more detailed story. One thing I rarely aim for in my work is perfection. I let that go many moons back. I love the wild human element to be present in art. My opinion on perfection is that it´s an illusion due to the fact that life is in a constant flux of movement and change.
DL: 3 Loves, 3 Hates — Go!
JM: Loves, All. Hates, Nothing (well, I try!). Okay 3 loves; dreaming, tubes and pizza. 3 hates; sleeping in, time flying and mowing long grass.
DL: How does surfing and living in Byron effect your perspective, inspiration and style of your work?
JM: There are quite a lot of artists in the Byron Shire, and not necessarily just painters or visual artists but all types of crazy´s and creatives. It´s an art bubble community. Generally most people think alternatively and live differently around here and with that there´s this sense of freedom to create. It´s totally inspiring seeing what other people are doing but I don´t necessarily get inspired by other artists work. I have my own style and palette etc, so for me it´s more about keeping my own perspective and walking out my own personal art adventure. Byron feeds that journey with it´s worldly and diverse culture right on the shores of its´ beautiful beaches, and you can head west 30 minutes and be standing alone on a mountaintop. Surfing in Byron is pretty amazing. It´s crowded, but it´s also easy to get away around some corner and surf with just a few others in a very special place.
Come see the full array of James’ exhibition “god/surf” at our Newrybar store this Thursday, 7 Jan from 6-9pm. Nibbles, drinks, and live music — you won’t want to miss it!
Images via James McMillan and Retrospectgalleries.com