James Drinkwater has a passion for life, love and the beauty of his physical world.
In his practice, he effortlessly moves between media–searching for that which will best convey his intention. He works feverishly, dissecting and reaching within his soul for meanings and memories that become his visual language.
Nothing in his world is forgotten. Rauschenberg-like, studio detritus is morphed into art. Objects that have sat dormant for decades are re-imagined and re-contextualised into monumental paintings and sculptures that speak of his history. Yet, the result on the wall touches us all; ultimately, it becomes a shared conversation between artist and audience.
When talking of his life, Drinkwater triggers and resonates with moments of our lives. We identify with the patter and patterns of his picture plain—like snaps from a dream; an existence we wish to last for an eternity.
Wherever he travels, fragments are etched into his psyche—they become his totems from which he builds the major works. From Europe to the vast Western Desert, into the wilds of Tasmania and on to the lost paradise of Matisse's Pacific, everything is recorded. It is a deeply personal vision that has been documented for over a decade.
Now his hometown of Newcastle is brought into sharp focus, as is the history of a man—his grandfather whom he never met. This man formed the artist with his memory.
James Makes Pictures (A Monster Without Fins)
James Makes Pictures might sound a little flippant a title for a piece of writing; a man describing what another man does for a living to a second party. Nonetheless, I am sticking with it.
I am looking at The Bulker Wades Past the Peninsula and So We Jubilate; the picture is brown. Well mainly brown. There is a square in the left bottom corner. To the right, there are golden lines; yellow, orange—of a tone that makes one think of a sun either rising in the mind or setting in thought—a tangential link to the actual world. This is not a photograph. It has not been taken. This picture has been made, built. The picture plane has a surface that threatens to move but does not. I am looking at these lines, they could be coordinates, or an architectural sketch: lines designating a structure for a building that could be a home. They are certain. They make me think of the boxes that Francis Bacon used to place his figures in. They were like his little cages of torment. Or rather, they were places that he could observe the torment of existence in isolation, outside the run of time. In these boxes, Bacon’s figures sometimes screamed, other times they laughed, cruelly. Sallust, a historian of the Roman Republic wrote, “Only a few prefer liberty—the majority seek nothing more than fair masters”. This idea terrifies me.
I have never used the word “jubilate”. Never written it out, or said it aloud. Not once before now. James uses it three times in this show—The Bulker Wades Past the Peninsula and So We Jubilate 1 and 2. And, again, in The Girl Sleeps in the Doctor’s Clothes, We Jubilate in the Rain.
When the Pasha Bulker ran aground in Newcastle in June 2007, the people of Newcastle indeed did jubilate. As if summoned by Ariel, this large tanker with a crew of 22, came through the fog and nestled itself up upon Nobbys Beach, a little embarrassed, a little afraid. The ship was empty of the coal it was meant to hold, as if it was conscious that it would be soon the container of not quite concrete romantic projections, a surrogate of dreams, and the producer of the most minor of economic booms.
Nobody died. And there was no environmental catastrophe. So, far from another tragedy to hang on the weary shoulders of this town, a big ship appeared to come from nowhere. It was stuck for a bit, and then it was towed back home by a super-tug called Koyo Maru. This is a story—the substance of myth.
We can look back at this ship fondly. We can miss it. The space it once occupied now emptier than before.
And so, in The Bulker Wades Past the Peninsula and So We Jubilate, I can see a ship, I can see fog, I can see hopes clouded with the disappointment and sadness of leaving. I can see jubilation.
And then, “Thomas sat by the sea”, or so starts Maurice Blanchot’s strange little book Thomas the Obscure. “The fog hid the shore. A cloud had come down upon the sea and the surface was lost in a glow, which seemed the only real thing.”
In his opening chapter, Blanchot describes a kaleidoscope of sensation, thinking and fear. In it, the eponymous Thomas loses the delineation between his skin, his being and the sea. Describing himself as a “monster without fins”, Thomas blends with the water within which he swims and he almost drowns.
The Sea Calls Me by Name conjures a similar sensation. There is a coastline, a figure flailing, and an ocean seeking to merge with them. There is desire, desperation and joy in this picture. The figure is substantiated by a series of patterns: a green slash, a black charcoal ash of a circle, a cross hatching that makes me think of a memory of a cane chair.
This painting is not a portrait, nor is it a landscape. Rather, it is both. It is a picture of a being and a place who cares not for the separation between subject-hood and object-hood. Like many of the works in Looking for Urchins and Louis Ferrari, it is a picture of a monster without fins: all sensation, fear and jubilation.