James Lavott - the Grappenhall artist the who made a life changing decision after suffering a stroke

Artist, James Lavott in his studio

Artist, James Lavott in his studio - Credit: Archant

Grappenhall artist James Lavott has not always been known by that name. A health scare prompted big changes in his life

Axis-Mind That Hot Tea

Axis-Mind That Hot Tea - Credit: notArchant

James Lavott is building a new career as a professional artist. Shortly after his 50th birthday, he was forced to re-evaluate his life after it almost came to an end while on holiday with his family in Cornwall.

‘We were all in Mevagissey when I suffered a serious stroke which meant several weeks convalescing followed by major surgery. It was a real game-changer which brought home to me how quickly life can change.

‘You can go at any time, so whatever you want to do you have to do it now. I realised I did not want get to whichever age it might be and say I wish I had done that.’

James took the brave step of leaving behind the world of corporate IT finance and the six-figure salary he had enjoyed for decades. It was a decision supported 100 per cent by his wife, Julie, and their three children.

The family downsized and moved to a smaller home in Grappenhall so he could focus on his passion, working from a small studio at the bottom of the garden

‘My wife has been amazing and it has been nice to get some extra dad time too.’

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The dramatic change in lifestyle also meant a change of professional identity. ‘James’ was actually born Steve Woolacott.

‘I was finished in the corporate world and felt that the name belonged to someone else. I wanted to make a complete break so I took the first three letters of my mother’s maiden name and the last three of my surname, using my middle name which is James. My family and friends down at the rugby club still call me Steve but in the art world I am James.’

Looking back, the 57-year-old artist says painting and drawing was always an interest but he never took it seriously as a career option.

‘I did O level art at school in Altrincham after staff insisted. I was the only student who did not do the lessons - I just sat the exam and got the highest grade. I then went on to take a degree in engineering at Salford University and a successful career.

‘When we went away on holiday I would always take a sketchbook and do drawings. One day my wife said “Why you don’t keep a few of these?” so I started to. But I still didn’t take it seriously.

‘After the stroke I could not do anything much at all including painting so I thought OK let’s read about how the masters used to do it and that’s what I did for months. I was particularly taken with the layered technique used by Vermeer when he painted the Girl With A Pearl Earring, removing one or more layers of oils, which develops the vibrancy and movement.

‘The subject-matter depends which style I go down. Paintings can take anything from three weeks to three months. Sometimes I can wander back to the kernel of an idea and end up somewhere completely different.’

Major influences, he says, include Dali, Matisse and Picasso. James now has a portfolio of 60 and 100 paintings ranging from realism to abstract works. They include family portraits and pieces with a surreal nod to Salvador Dali.

Signature works include 15 pictures with the theme of bar scenes, featuring people and places in the locality and the hustle and bustle of bars and restaurants. There is also a series of doodles in oils called The Misfits.

His working day usually starts at 7am. ‘Some days I can go right through for five hours or longer. You do feel a little bit lonely sometimes. I miss the banter at work and of course the six-figure salary. I’ve sold quite a few paintings for over £1,000 but the goal is not about money though it is nice to win recognition. I have a website and I am signed up to an agency which has sold quite a few of my prints.

‘Picasso said it is only ever about the search and what you are trying to find. My approach is I like to pull out the emotions and senses of felt experience as well as the visual. It makes you consider how the artwork works.’

One of his proudest moments was a recent exhibition at the Pyramid Gallery in Warrington.

‘One of the most satisfying things is seeing people standing in front of my paintings discussing whether they like it or hate it. I like painters who changed the course of history like Van Gogh, Picasso, Hockney, and Francis Bacon. They all shout quite loud. What I am trying to do is pick up their voice and say something too.

‘I have been very fortunate. It took me a long time to find out what I wanted to do in life and that was to paint. I really don’t mind what people think of my art because I really enjoy it. My only judge is me and if others like it that’s a great bonus.’ w