Meet James Giddy, a Johannesburg-born, Perth-based artist whose been in the game from an early age, using his natural surroundings as his muse to produce the distinctive monochromatic figures he’s become known for. You’ll find his murals scattered all around Perth, from Little Wing Gallery to Broken Hill Hotel. Presenting his 5th solo exhibition on Friday 9th December for opening night, James has spent years refining his craft and now makes his living as a full-time artist. We caught up with him to chat about how he does this, the art of patience and a bit his upcoming exhibitions.
What was your first gig as an artist?
Painting a mural for the Ocean Beach Hotel beer garden. I ended up getting a job from painting the mural there and stopped work after that summer.
What’s a normal day look like for you?
I wake up at 7, get a coffee and head to the beach. That clears my head so I don’t feel like I’ve just worked all day. Once I’ve gotten away for a bit I’ll go back to painting and I usually have a list of things I need to do, I’ve got priorities next to them so I’ll spend a couple of hours on each one. It’s a bit of a process; I don’t designate specific amount of hours, I start and then once it’s finished, it’s done. Whether it takes a day or three days. You’re pretty much an event planner, you’ve got to know what people are going to want other than just looking at art, so you’ve got to look at live music, commercial things like prints, little booklets and anything that would interest people further to come - so it’s not just ‘oh here’s some art,’ so that’s why I’ve got Gage Roads on board.
So you have a studio?
Yeah, it’s my parents garage that’s been converted. I spend a few days on each painting and sit with them for a bit after that and if I’m still happy with it I’ll leave it and if I’m not I’ll change it. It’s a game of patience, you can’t rush any of it otherwise it’s going be a flop.
Do you ever feel isolated when you’ve been working long hours in the studio?
It’s funny because I don’t come across as an introvert but I feel like I am. I need that time on my own to clear my head. I’m terrible with social media, I’ll post once a month when I should be posting 3 times a week but personally I feel that’s almost fake if I’m doing that – but you need to do it because if you’ve got a business mindset that’s what you should be doing.
Do you have anyone to help you out with that side of it?
Not yet, while I’ve been at uni I’ve been doing it all off my own bat, obviously money is a bit of an issue there.
How’d you learn how to do it off your own bat?
I did an internship at the corner gallery in 2014 and that was probably the biggest help in terms of learning how to go about doing everything. I worked it out by observing other people. I think that’s the best way for anyone to learn; experiencing how someone else is doing it and going through the problem with them. You learn what they’re dealing with on the side cos obviously they need someone to talk to.
So it was purely observational?
Yeah I guess once you know what you want to do and how you want to do it, there’s no stopping you and then you learn from your own mistakes. That’s why I’ve had so many exhibitions because each one has been a learning curve, like “oh that fucked up I’m going to do that better at the next one,” or “why did I do that in my studio, I’m going to do that in a better space next time.” You learn as you go and make so many mistakes. The exhibition I had in March was probably the best and highest standard I set for myself, I sold almost everything at that exhibition and it was packed.
Have you been making a full living as an artist?
Yeah, for the last year and a half. I had to move back in with my parents though.
But now you can afford to move back out?
Yeah I actually can which is epic. But I’ve got a lot of travel planned for this time next year so I wanted to invest in this solo exhibition at common ground; get some alcohol, food, live entertainment and some merchandise set up.
I read in your bio that you’ve been painting from a really early age. When did you make the connection that you wanted to turn it into a career? A lot of people thing of art as a hobby and don’t allow themselves the dream of doing that.
All through school, I kind of did it on the side. I won the art award when I was in year 9 and a photography prize in year 11. But you’re never told to take that as a career path and because I was doing alright at everything else they said “oh yeah you can get a normal job and do normal stuff.” Because I was posting on Instagram and getting a good reception from my mates and following, through some weird connection I ended up painting those murals at the OBH and got more money than I’d ever made in only a week’s worth of work, so that when I thought I’d start doing it more and enrolled in an Arts Degree.
So if it wasn’t for that experience you might not have had the confidence to pursue it as a career?
I would always do it I think but I wouldn’t have pursued it as a career path, because you’re always told you can’t make money as an artist unless you’re a teacher.
Any words of wisdom for people with barrier in their mind about not having the time to make art or not making the time because it feels futile to do it?
Do it on the side of a normal job at the start because the number of free jobs I did was ridiculous. At that point you’re doing it because you love it, so you’re painting peoples walls and they’re paying for the paint but you’re not making a cent. But because you’re practicing so much and refining your skills by doing these free jobs, you get to a standard where you’re creating much better works that you can start charging money for and you’ve got a portfolio that justifies that. So it’s taking each step, it’s a game of patience. You can’t expect to become Picasso in the next month. Nobody’s going to know your name for years, nobody still knows my name and I’ve been doing this for three and a half, four years. Everyone thinks it’s going to happen straight away, you’ve just gotta take little steps and keep going, as long as you’re still passionate about it and you have the mindset that your best painting is going to be your next one.
What’s been your biggest setback as an artist?
Just the lack of respect you often get, not in terms of your skills and ability but in terms of what you do as a profession, a lot of people think “you can do this for free because you’re passionate about it”’ Often people don’t see it as a job, you’re just doing it because you love it – which is true but you need to make a living.
What's your goal as an artist, is there something you try to express each time?
Personally it’s this constant task to make each work better and come up with different compositions. It’s a constant desire to keep it exciting, you don’t ever want to be bored of what you’re doing. For myself it’s just to keep it exciting and for everyone else it’s to keep feeding them with something new while holding their interest, which is actually quite hard to do.