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James Earley talks to us about his award-winning portraiture

James Earley's hyperreal portraits of the disenfranchised, homeless people and war victims from Iraq and Yemen have led him to critical acclaim

Southampton-born artist, James Earley, paints intricate, hyperreal portraits of people who have suffered during the pandemic, from war victims to patients in intensive care units to homeless people on the streets of Southampton.

In 2020, James had nine exhibitions cancelled and the majority of his income moved from physical galleries to online platforms. Artfinder’s annual impact report, released this week, reports that 61% of artists now find digital sales platforms more important than physical galleries for selling their work.

Although entirely self-taught, James’ remarkable portraits won first prize at The prestigious London Biennale and he has now been selected to exhibit at the internationally renowned Venice Biennale in 2022. He has sold five of his paintings via Artfinder to collectors in the UK and the US, often donating his profits to charitable causes including the NHS and homeless charities, Crisis and The Big Issue Foundation. He currently lives near Salisbury with his wife and three children.

James says, "For me, art has to be something that will help raise awareness, but I also have to know the person who I am painting. In the case of homelessness, I personally know many people who have become homeless through unfortunate circumstances and it’s a crisis that is near impossible to ignore."

James' latest painting, 'Rory' depicts a young man who has lived on the streets throughout the pandemic.

"I met Rory early in 2021 outside Starbucks next to Embankment Tube Station in London. Rory is from Birmingham and lives on the streets of London. Rory suffers from mental health issues and he fears living amongst people in a property so for him living on the streets is his only escape. I wanted to show Rory's vulnerability, his fear and his desperation in a time when Covid 19 was a real threat to the homeless of London. In the painting the reflection of a person just by Rory is actually me as I sat and spoke to him. If mental health issues were given greater emphasis by authorities maybe Rory and those like him would not find themselves on the cold hard streets."

"I sit with my subjects in the street and I hear their stories as I sketch. There are so many awful things going on in the world at the moment, art has to be a straight line from your heart to your canvas. In the case of war victims, I work from photographs directly from a friend who is a war correspondent - I hear their stories and I communicate with them and their families via this friend, which is the closest I can myself get to those stories."

"Before the pandemic 90% of my income came from exhibitions and art fairs, and now it has swung the other way with the majority of my income coming from online sales including Artfinder, who sold my first ever painting online."

James is also currently working on a series of portraits of NHS staff and patients on the intensive care unit at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London.

"Susan is a Nurse at St Bartholomew's. The NHS struggled enormously with the Coronavirus and they had to deal with a pandemic whilst very unprepared. I wanted to create a painting that shows all sides of Susan, the happy, relaxed and easygoing side and the fearful side, the emotion knowing full well she was to fight on the front line against such a threat. It is this fear that I wanted central to the painting. Just behind Susan is a blurred figure, faceless, a monster, a threat. And almost invisible around the painting are the face masks, masks that were invisible at the start of the pandemic."

He is also working with the Innocence Project in the US, on a series of six portraits of death row prisoners who have been found innocent, up to 15 years after their initial conviction.

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