The first of a new series highlighting innovation and new talent in Scotland today,
On a foggy evening on London Road I sit for a coffee with Edinburgh- based portrait painter, Jamie King, to discuss his recent work.
Jamie speaks slowly, rhythmically, in even measure. His words are considered and deliberate.
He is extraordinarily perceptive. We have been friends for years – still, each encounter makes me feel naked. It is as though he is more aware of my current state of being than I am. There is no faff, no bullshit. It is as jarring and refreshing as a splash of cold water.
This perceptiveness is reflected in his work. His portraits are bold, raw, honest.
I ask him what he is searching for when he paints:
“Possibly not something beautiful, or something hideous. It is some sort of expression. It turns up when the subconscious takes over.”
King was born in Edinburgh in 1969. The son of a painter, art has always been a part of his life. He recalls drawing and painting from his earliest days.
With the onset of schizophrenia in his late teens, Jamie finished school early. He continued to draw, paint and sculpt whilst in and out of hospital, having no formal art training until his mid-thirties, when he studied painting at Telford College.
Though he has dabbled in other forms, a love of both people and expression continually draws Jamie back to portraiture. The majority of his portraits are of friends he has encountered on this journey through the mental health circuit.
Jamie’s portraits take us into the lives of others, particularly those in maligned and neglected sectors of society. His work allows us to see through the lens of at once both a gifted artist and one whose empathy comes from personal experience.
“I think of it as fellow symptomatic representation. I’m not representing people without knowing what they’re going through, I’ve been through it myself.”
I ask him about his concerns about society.
“People need to learn to respect each other. You can qualify for a disability benefit through an inability to walk x amount of yards. Whereas when you’re mentally ill, sometimes you can’t bring yourself to move or get out of bed. And you can’t predict when that’s going to happen. But there’s no allowance for that. You’re made to feel weak. There just needs to be more respect..”
Jamie comes into his studio at Edinburgh’s Art’s Complex every day. If you loiter around the London Road entrance for long enough, you will inevitably catch him on a smoke break, and if you’re lucky, he’ll invite you up to see his work.
He believes in a disciplined, determined work ethic.
“Some artists need to feel inspired. I find the need to be disciplined and just get on with it. Even on a bad day. Especially on a bad day.”
Painting is what Jamie loves to do, but it is also what he needs to do.
Putting paint on board brings order to the world. Every day Jamie battles a mind filled with chaos by composing in paint.
Jamie cites the figurative work of Lucien Freud, Frances Bacon, Edvard Munch, and Picasso’s Blue Period as his main influences, alongside the core influences of his father, the late Jim King, and mother, Sandra King, who lives and paints in Livingston.
A softer, gentler essence seeps into his most recent work, perhaps reflected by his recent fascination with the colours and figures of Wassily Kandinsky. Over the past years, his portraits have been acrylic on board, but his upcoming exhibition presents a departure – four portraits in acrylic on board will be accompanied by 10 panels of ink on paper.
I’m excited about his new work in ink. It is crisp, incisive and vivid- somehow much warmer than his past work.
The new exhibition is entitled Odyssey. “Odyssey is about a journey that can take a lifetime and you may find yourself in a place where everything is okay. For me, I don’t think that’ll ever happen. But you never know.”
Odyssey opens at 6:30PM on Friday 19th April, 2013 at the Art’s Complex at St. Margaret’s House 151 London Road, Edinburgh, and runs to the 5th of May.