Master Of The Month – Interview with James Willis

Artist James Willis has a BA Hons in Fine Art and Music, as well as an MA in the History of Art. He was the resident artist at the Sir John Soanes’ museum for some years and runs lectures on painting techniques and concepts.

How long have you been painting?

My mother still has a portrait drawing I made of my father at work when I was about 7 years old. But my earliest memory of using paint is at school a few years later.

Tell me about your training and early artistic ambitions?

After school I studied for my Batchelor
 of Arts with Honours degree at Chester University, England where I combined Fine Art and Music (I am a pianist). A little later I studied the History of Art for my Masters Degree at Birkbeck College, London. After my first degree I did the sensible thing and found a “proper” job in the finance industry until one day I decided to leave that career and concentrate purely on a more creative one.

Wow! That was brave. How did that work out for you?

In this country it can be very difficult to work just as a painter and you often need to find other work to supplement your income. Fortunately for me, I have always been able to find other creative projects and have been very fortunate to work in some amazing places. Everything I have been involved in has certainly added much to my experience. Painting has always been part
of that so to answer your question, and it is about twenty years since the finance job, yes I think it has worked.

You mentioned that you have been involved in other projects, what were your favourites?

In 1997 I founded a large Arts Centre in Hertfordshire. Over eighteen years on, I
am pleased to say it is still going strong. After that I was greatly privileged to be
asked to set up a programme of creative workshops for Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. There, I designed and ran regular arts activities for people of all ages and abilities. Inspired by the magnificent Soane collection, the programme gave people the opportunity to be inspired and develop their creativity just as Soane himself had written
– to provide “an academy” for the benefit of students and artists.

More recently I have become involved at the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, London where a new programme of creative activities is underway. Alongside these projects I lecture in Art History for various institutions, linking practical knowledge with historical perspectives, working with young architects at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL and several groups of artists during the week.

Tell me about your upcoming exhibition?

It is a solo show in London called, “The London Paintings” and the theme is, unsurprisingly, London and its buildings. When I was at the Soane Museum I
became very interested in the architectural drawings and paintings which form part of that amazing collection. I have always been interested in buildings and perspective, but here was the chance to put my experience into practice. The works are all views of the city, but often taken from high or unusual viewpoints, exploiting the spread of the architecture below using complex perspective.

The exhibition comprises large panoramas
of contemporary London, where classic and modern buildings wrestle for space in the city. The strong skyline and complicated details are elements of each piece and another important feature is the river Thames winding its way through the city.

Images courtesy of James Willis.
Willis’s exhibition is one not to miss. For more information please visit James’s site:

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