Ahead of the opening of his new solo exhibition Selective Hearing at Arthouse Gallery, Rushcutters Bay, we sit down with artist James Ettelson to talk organised chaos, creative process and finding healing in the ocean.
“The show’s about choosing people with good energy and vibes in your life.”
What was the inspiration behind the show, and the name Selective Hearing?
I think the name Selective Hearing is very relevant for the time we are living in. There is a lot of junk getting thrown at us, especially with social media these days. The show’s also about energy and I’m not talking about crystal moons or dream catchers. The show’s about choosing people with good energy and vibes in your life. There are lots of cats in these paintings as I think they are a good judge of character and very selective who they hang with.
Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day work flow up on the Northern Beaches?
Usually I wake up, have a swim or surf to clear the mind, get my coffee then get stuck into work. My paintings are very time consuming. While I paint I listen to RN, music, podcasts and audiobooks. Usually I get in the ocean in the afternoon then if I am working on a show I paint late into the night.
You’re a surfer, how does the sport influence your artistic practice?
I wouldn’t say that the sport of surfing influences me in making art, it’s more something I love to do. It’s the one time my mind shuts off and stops thinking. I am definitely inspired by the ocean, it heals me and keeps me sane.
“My paintings are very spontaneous and expressive of how I feel at the time. I like to use lots of bright colours because it makes me feel happy.”
Can you tell us about your creative practice? How would you describe your method of painting?
You could say it’s a stippling effect but there are many processes before the detail gets added. I work with lots of different materials and add lots of layers to the work as I go. Nothing is planned except the colour palette in my head. My paintings are very spontaneous and expressive of how I feel at the time. I like to use lots of bright colours because it makes me feel happy.
Your artworks are incredibly detailed. Roughly how long does it take for you to finish one of your larger pieces?
My standard size painting is usually 150 x 150 cm which takes me from three to four weeks. Very detailed intricate and time consuming – my hands hurt.
“A lot of my paintings are very abstract, so the thing I enjoy is people making up their own mind as to what they see.”
Aside from canvas works can you tell us about any collaborations or commissions that you have been working on?
I recently did a collaboration with Bob McTavish which I was very happy to be asked to do. He is a pioneer and icon of surfing. I made two beautiful, one off hand shaped surfboards that I painted. They turned out really well! I’m also working on a project with Kelly slater and Bruce Raymond, two other icons of the surfing world. I am very excited by this project! Apart from that, I am going to start making sculptures and ceramics. I’m also going to be continuing on a new style of painting that will be a lot more minimal than my usual paintings.
Can you tell us about any artists that inspire your creative practice?
I’m inspired by lots of artists. I really like the way Sean Scully talks about art and shares his view that “a painting should never have to explain itself”. I also like Katherine Bradford, Christian Rosa, Danny Fox, Robert Nava, Johanna Wood, Dale Frank and many, many more.
You’ve spoken previously about the beauty of organised chaos, mess and noise. Is this an idea that carries from your work environment into your art?
To be honest my workspace becomes quite messy. Usually lots of paintings, clothes, books, tea cups, etc. For some reason I have a fascination with taking photos of my studio floor. The new minimal paintings I’m working on are definitely inspired by it.
Do you have any desire to exhibit internationally? And if so, where?
In my last two shows there were a number of works that sold to international clients, this made me very happy! My next move is to find international representation.
What can we expect to see from you in the foreseeable future?
I am going to keep pushing forward and creating new work and traveling.
Selective Hearing is open from July 10 – 27 at Arthouse Gallery, Rushcutters Bay.