Contemporary Fine Art @ The Piper Art Bar

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Biography Early Biography written by John Gilboy James Naughton was born in Bolton, Lancashire, on the 6th May 1971, and apart from his three college years in Leeds and a short spell in America, he has never left. It is from this large provincial northern English industrial town that he began what was to become a most extraordinary career as one of Britain's most accomplished and sought after landscape painters. There was nothing in his traditional working class background that would suggest painting as an obvious career choice. He came from a large catholic family, his father a steel-fixer and his mother a shop worker, and James was a twin, the third of five children, all boys. As relief from manual work his father would often walk in the countryside around the town with the young James at his side, and these early experiences instilled in the boy a passion for the moors and valleys which were to become the subject of so many of his paintings in later life. School life wasn't particularly easy for James. He had his struggles, particularly with reading, but he made his way through primary school without significant mishap and took his place at Sharples High School. From an early age he spent much of his time drawing. He was good at it and clearly loved it. In those days he took his subject matter from cartoons and films, and made humorous sketches of monsters and characters taken from the childhood comics of the day. He was imaginative and his parents and teachers could see how much enjoyment he got from these activities, and encouraged him. In other subjects Naughton showed average abilities and he knew early on that he was much more visually literate than academic. He enjoyed the sciences, physics in particular, but never displayed special talents in these areas. Now he holds dearly to the view that enjoyment should in itself be a worthy reward for study, and berates the educational system for discouraging and inadvertently failing children by only celebrating and rewarding academic success. Nevertheless Naughton progressed through school with 'A' Levels in Art, History and Sociology, and with his love of drawing still in tact, progressed to the Bolton Institute of Higher Education to do his Foundation Studies in Art fausse montre and Design. He was not driven at this stage by any great sense of purpose or certainty about a future career in art, for he knew little of the possibilities, least of all that he could make a living as a painter. But he could draw, and by the standards of other children he could draw well, so it was natural that he should take his place at the school of art. Foundation courses are designed to give young students the opportunity to try and test many of the applied and pure art forms, (normally ceramics, textiles, graphics, printmaking, painting, and sculpture), as well as offering a grounding in drawing, colour theory and a basic knowledge of the fundamental principles of aesthetics and design practice. Such courses, well taught, can be inspirational and so they proved for the young Naughton. It was at the Institute that his mind and imagination were creatively challenged and expanded, and he much enjoyed being in the company of other talented young students. There was a lot to be learned and he applied himself with purpose. Bill Dyson, a lecturer and tutor at the college, became his mentor and introduced him to printmaking, which was to prove most significant in the young student's future development as an artist. Of all the many printmaking techniques it was the humble monoprint which really caught James' imagination. Monoprints are made by drawing with printing inks directly onto a flat smooth surface, normally glass. The inks are thick and tacky but can be let down with spirit to make them flow more easily. Thus the artist is able to create areas of dark or areas of tone depending on how thick or thin the ink is. Inks, of course, will dry quite quickly when spread over the plate, so images have to be forged rapidly whilst the inks are still open and malleable. Monoprints, therefore, are often characterised by freedom and spontaneity in the mark making. Drawing is often done with the fingers or rags, or with either end of a brush. This process taught Naughton one very significant lesson, that good work does not necessarily have to come out of protracted labour. Hitherto he had spent time in crafting his imagery in a much more meticulous manner and he saw virtue in labour almost for its own sake. At the back of his mind was the idea that if something hadn't taken a long time to make it couldn't be very good. So it was, through monoprinting, that Naughton came to enjoy speed and learned to trust to a more gestural approach to image making that wasn't so time oriented. He managed to rid himself once and for all of the yolk of labour and celebrate the joy of spontaneous mark making. And from this came the greatest liberation of all, the freeing of his sub-conscious to influence the image. Naughton passed from Bolton to the Metropolitan University in Leeds to take his degree over three further years of study. He was keen to pursue his new love of printmaking and the course at Leeds, although graphics based, afforded him the time and the opportunity to do exactly this. At this stage he hadn't yet begun to paint the landscape and all his work was figurative and topographical in kind. His course was structured in a quite unusual way, which happened to suit Naughton's particular way of thinking and working. Instead of learning to work to tight commercial briefs, as graphic designers were often trained to do, students at Leeds were given unusual amounts of freedom to produce whatever they wanted in the way of work, and to be playful. Good ideas, and the development of a skill base, it was thought, would come out of such activity. Naughton, under the guidance of tutors, Phil Redford and Jack Chesterman, concentrated on drawing and printmaking which led to the production of illustrated 'fine art' books and boxed suites of prints, still in the figurative idiom. He left the university with a first class honours degree, a passion for printmaking, and a determination to keep making art. But without the presses and printing facilities provided by the university printmaking proved difficult, and in part it was this simple practical consideration which caused James to turn his attention to painting, a much more manageable pursuit within the domestic environment. Finding ones way as an artist is no easy thing, not just in the matter of acquiring skills, but in the understanding and coming to terms with ones nature and interests as well, and James was still searching and experimenting. The roads to creative awareness, to the discovery of a unique voice, are often circuitous and it is sometimes through accident or unexpected change in circumstance that significant progress is made. Thus, it was back home in Bolton, amongst the moors and valleys of his boyhood, that he continued his artistic adventure, an adventure that would lead to the making of his reputation, not as a printmaker, but as a landscape painter of extraordinary vision and originality.

Nicholas Pritchard

Gallery Owner

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