I first met James Willebrant – (Australian Artist) in the late 1970’s perhaps 1977. I previously became interested in his paintings after first viewing them in art magazines and at Kym Bonython Galleries, then located in Elizabeth Street, Paddington, Sydney.
My initial fascination was with the figure within his paintings exhibiting few human features in his painting i.e. no hands, fingers or facial expression, yet they were always captured in a relaxing pose. The figures/characters seemed inconsequential! And were seen as figures resembling humans but without individual features.
James Willebrant was also fascinated with architecture, especially the Bondi Baths and the Bondi Pavilion. My thoughts were…… if he liked these structures then I can’t wait to introduce him to Newcastle’s coastal architecture. This had James Willebrant’s signature all over it, yet he didn’t know of these “gems”.
Over time the figures morphed into human like characters revealing more personality and becoming action or sporting in nature. Today they have developed further – however they still capture a place where time has stopped!
Another feature about his painting dating back to the beginning, was the artist continued the subject of the painting (with the detail in tact) around the edge of the canvas, thereby adding a 3 dimensional quality. Now days this is common place. However I believe James Willebrant was the first Australian artist to present his painting in this fashion!
James or Jim as he is known to his friends came to Newcastle as a front man for several bands during the 1970’s, which was his entrée to the city of Newcastle. He says he immediately felt welcome and settled in this city and from these early days James began to understand the Novocastrian way and certainly tasted its hospitality. A few broken hearts I imagine, with those girls who could never get enough of the boys on the stage!
Jame’s early solo exhibition with Cooks Hill Galleries after the building extensions here in the late 1970’s-80’s was memorable for me personally. The kitchen wall of gallery room 2, exhibited a kite flying painting, which my wife and I loved. We didn’t take too long to make up our minds to buy it! Just 5 minutes after the decision, another client came into the gallery and wanted the artwork only to be let down – sorry!
The painting today hangs on our dining room wall.
Based on this experience the lesson I learnt was twofold:
(i) If you like an artwork, it’s reasonable that others will respond in a similar way and desire it too.
(ii) When you see an artwork you like, buy it! We all have recollections of letting something go or pass, only to feel the loss for years following. Know yourself I say and secure what you like when you see it. For art is a one-off item and artists move on with their styles, thus second chances are not an option as a rule.
An early Newcastle Baths painting from this era was purchased by the Lingard Hospital and until recently was behind the front desk of the entrance. Certainly Willebrant’s paintings enhance the walls of corporate premises as well as private homes. NBN Television station has another early painting from James Willebrant.
Back to the artist, a graduate of East Sydney Art School he vowed to continue as a professional artist straight from art school. Remember it was the 1970’s so it was rare for an artist to survive and be able to live from art sales alone, such was the focus of this artist to make it happen.
Wind the clock forward and James is one of our most established exhibitors where Gallery and artist relationships have prospered over decades.
With this exhibition the artist re visits the beaches and poolscapes of our coastline – Merewether and Newcastle coastline contrasted by views over the city from the Obleisk theme. James loves to involve himself with the history of this icon. In much the same fashion as he did with the Nobby’s paintings of the past. However this time he is occupied by the nocturnal interpretation, being another twist on the subject he knows so well!
James has been loyal to Newcastle and his love for the area is acknowledged. We are delighted to have him exhibit again after a short break of a few years. I invite you to explore his paintings and understand the impact of the surreal interpretation of the subject matter of the region and elsewhere.
Please join us for the opening of James Willebrant’s exhibition “My nearest faraway place” on Friday the 9th of November between 6 and 8pm at the Cooks Hill Galleries. The artist will be in attendance. The exhibition continues until Dec 3rd.