As I stand in the artist’s studio, James Drinkwater strides from pallet to canvas with a surgeon’s intent. His paint-stained hand holds the hog hairbrush with an overhand grip— generously layered in oil paint. Initially lunging at the canvas, he pulls back at the last moment before impact, delicately touching the surface. Another mark, another personal totem, comes to life. Then without hesitation, the artist's eye is darting to the next moment of focus in the vast landscape of his mind.
It is an experience that I have witnessed many times in the years that James and I have travelled and worked together. From the heat haze of the Australian desert to the highlands of Tasmania— even the mad intensity of the ‘wet floor’ food courts of Asia— the artist will seemingly file the key images and experiences for a later time when charcoal and paper is present. His subjects are filtered by osmosis— they become part of him. No matter where Drinkwater stands, there is an intensity to create, and a mission to record life in all its vital beauty.
James Drinkwater’s love of the experience of living is profoundly infectious. In the evening break for dinner, north coast pippy clams tossed in garlic and white wine and sardines loaded with lemon juice—are thrown together on the studio table with roughly torn bread. It is effortless...food stripped bare to its essential elements— a metaphor for his painting. In his practice, every mark has a reason for being. It is something you become aware of in the time spent with him. Nothing wasted, nothing overlooked— everything eventually resolved.
Drinkwater is undoubtedly passionate— to be otherwise is anathema for him. However, this is a shared experience; he wants us on the journey. I LOVE YOU TO PIECES THEN BACK AGAIN is a body of work that is, in places, introspective. It is about his home in Newcastle— but it is also about his experience of living; of being a son and a father.
He is not telling us anything in particular and certainly, there is no "soapbox" moralising. In fact, titles are ambiguous, imagery delves toward abstraction, text is used— fragmented and, at times, chaotic beyond conventional compositional wisdom. But that’s the point...he is unconventional. His great gift as an artist is to draw it all together and we, the audience, mature with the paintings— our lives enrich our understanding of the paintings. This is the essential element— Drinkwater delivers the jump-off point for the audience to embrace our own history and delve into the stories of our own lives— our fragmented memories of childhood, the moments that made us who we are. And in doing so, he reminds us of what a gift it is to live and love— in a world where so many struggle to do both.