Interview: Somerset artist James SB Richardson, ‘Britain’s Van Gogh’

James with a piece of art he has done for a local school

James with a piece of art he has done for a local school - Credit: sub

Art is the ultimate expression - and for the artist named ‘Britain’s Van Gogh’, it is also a vital form of therapy for OCD

Slumber in the City by James Richardson

Slumber in the City by James Richardson - Credit: Archant

Art at its best reflects the emotions of those viewing the work – and those creating it. And sometimes those two responses meet. Art has a reputation for its therapeutic abilities – but it can also create work of great worth: consider the great Matisse’s blue cut-outs created when he was a bed-ridden invalid, which are now considered his best work.

Creating art is always about interpreting the world around us and when someone has mental health challenges, the work can provide the viewer with a unique insight into the world the artist inhabits. For Somerset artist James SB Richardson his artwork was a secret, locked away, he says, for 25 years due to what he calls a mental illness: obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is characterised as a mental disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions). Often the person carries out repeated behaviours to get rid of the obsessive thoughts.

And if James’ work itself is not inextricably linked to his OCD, his attitude to his work was. He arrived on the art scene with a bang in 2017 when he won an award during his first ever show. Within months he was commissioned by US country music star Anastasia Richardson to create a work to be featured in her music video for Hearts and Horses. Launched in October 2017, the video was based around his canvas, combining the two worlds of art together.

The singer’s representatives had contacted James last year after seeing some of his work and asked him to produce a piece for her single. The work was unveiled at his former school, Churchill Academy.

Golly by James Richardson

Golly by James Richardson - Credit: Archant

“It’s been a big hit in the States,” he says. “They are calling me the new British Van Gough, I’m very humbled and ever so slightly embarrassed,” he admits. But his work looks set to be far from a one-hit wonder. He has since been asked to create an album cover by a studio in Holland.

People consider his work as intelligent but to James, it’s just a visual representation of what he see’s in his mind.

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“I have had OCD since I was 12 and for the past 25 years I’ve kept it secret and suffocated the art through fear of rejection,” he admits of his secret passion.

“But this year I decided to make a stand against it and seek therapy professionally, as up until now it hasn’t worked with the NHS.

“No one new of my hunger for art, certainly not my family or friends, only me,” he continues. “It was suggested I face my anxiety head on and enter the Clevedon Pier Arts for All competition. I felt I didn’t stand a chance with my canvas the Old Boathouse, but I won! So I ventured out into the unknown of social networking my work and it seems people love it and it seems to connect with almost everyone.

“This year has been a wave of success, with my first exhibition at the Blakehay Theatre in Weston-super-Mare.’

James has since appeared on the BBC’s Points West, as well as Radio Bristol, newspapers and online.

Among his recent commissions was one for a little boy called Freddy. “Freddy needs a life-saving operation in the US,” says James. “The canvas was called Twolips, it was auctioned at the Grand Pier and it reached £475.

“One of my commissions called Ojo Del Toro for another children’s charity competition became so popular that one man celebrated his win, but a lady asked him if she could pay just to own it! The money went straight to the children’s charity.”

The attention has been fast-paced and James has taken in it his stride, perhaps because he is clear that the art he creates is not about financial success, but about the pure joy of expression, something he hopes will be shared with viewers of his work.

“Allow yourself to unlock the gates to your mind and open your ideas up to the way of the very different, deep, sometimes dark meanings,” he says of his work.