On first impressions James Preston doesn’t look like the sort of chap who spends his time painting delicate bluebell woods and dreamy landscapes.
If I had to pigeonhole him in an instant it would be as a performer who would be quite at home on stage with the Rolling Stones.
It seems that, he for one, would be happy with that description as James admits he is a ‘bit of an old hippie’ and most definitely an ‘aging rocker’ who likes nothing better than to be playing his guitar in front of a crowd.
If you live in Derbyshire and are interested in art then there is every chance that you will have seen his paintings and imagined they were the work of a demure artist gently capturing our beautiful landscape on canvas.
Well you would be wrong, yes, he is inspired by the countryside around him and, yes, his talents have seen him lauded as one of the UK’s most highly acclaimed landscape artists, but there is nothing even remotely demure about 71-year-old James.
If you don’t believe me just scan the QR code below to see him in action with his last band Metropolis who were performing in pubs and clubs in the county until last summer.
“At school I was always top in art and good at music but I realised I couldn’t combine my two loves and at that time what I really wanted to do was play my guitar in a band,” said James.
“So, believing that painting was just something I could fall back on if I didn’t make it as a musician, I rejected art school in favour of studying History of Art.”
Consequently in the late 60s James found himself touring all over Europe with bands living out his dream of being a rock star while sketching and painting as a hobby.
He has been performing with one band or another pretty much ever since. All that’s changed is that in those early days as a musician he realised that it was painting he wanted to pursue as a career and playing the guitar was for fun.
James, who was born and brought up in Birmingham moved to Duffield with his family when he was a teenager.
It was in that village just outside Derby that his mother Doreen bought an antique shop with space for an art studio for her son.
It was the impetus James needed to set him on the path to becoming the full time artist he is today.
His mother, who was always known as a savvy business woman, used to exhibit the odd painting byJames in the antique shop and it was in 1970 that he recalls one of his first sales.
“I had been working on a big canvas and there wasn’t much room for it in the studio so I moved it into the shop out of the way. Shortly afterwards my mother shouted up asking how much I wanted for the painting. Off the top of my head I just said ‘£500’ and was amazed when she announced she had sold it.
“What still makes me smile is that she took 25 per cent commission even thought it had only been in the shop for five minutes. That was my mother, as anyone who knew her will realise,” said James with a laugh.
During the last 50 or so years demand for James’ work has never really faltered and he has sold and exhibited paintings all over the world as well as being commissioned by leading publishers such as De Montfort Fine Art. He is particularly popular in Japan where they love his paintings of bluebell woods.
“I have been sending paintings to Japan for more than 20 years and I cannot think how many homes there have my bluebell paintings hanging on their walls. I have painted so many bluebell woods that my middle name should be bluebell,” he quipped.
Thanks to the success of the painting sales back in the 70s the Preston’s antique shop evolved into Duffield Gallery, which until recently was being run by James’ son (also called James). As he has just decided to concentrate on his framing business James senior and his wife Jill have taken over at the helm.
“We have exciting plans for 2018 and I am looking forward to seeing how it develops,” said James.
Go to http://www.jamespreston.com for more details about his work.