James Dignan


WNMS – James, you’re the art reviewer for the ODT, a freelance writer, musician, and artist. Is one of these areas more important to you than the others?

I’m also the ODT’s daily quiz compiler, and do a regular show on Otago University’s student radio station! It varies from time to time. As far as income is concerned, the ODT work is top priority, but in terms of what gets the creative juices going the most, the art and music tend to alternate. At the moment the music’s in the upswing, but it’s likely that in the next two months it will be the art again.

WNMS – Why was 1998 the year that you start painting seriously?

I was working on my PhD at university and getting thoroughly sick of it. I needed an outlet for my creativity that was unrelated to the work I was doing, and at that time my music was in a really low ebb, so I used painting as that outlet.

WNMS – Where do ideas for your artwork come from – the beach, the street, in the middle of the night, overheard, read…….?

I usually carry a camera with me wherever I go, and it’s the chance scenes I come across that usually provide the spark of inspiration for my painting.

WNMS – Do you remember your first sale?

A very moody black and white piece called “Heading for home” – I sold it at the Otago University student art exhibition in about 2000.

WNMS – When and where was your first exhibition?

Satellite Gallery, in Stuart Street, Dunedin, in 2002.

WNMS – The Moray and Temple Galleries exhibit your work. Have you exhibited outside Dunedin?

I’ve been a guest exhibitor at an exhibition in Manapouri, and also the same at an exhibition at the Grainstore Gallery in Oamaru.


WNMS – What was your best exhibition –either in terms of sales or enjoyment?

In terms of enjoyment, it was probably “The Unguarded Moment”, at the Temple Gallery in 2009 – It’s a wonderful, difficult, atmospheric gallery to fill, and I concentrated on portraiture, which was a bit of a departure from my previous townscapes. In terms of sales, I don’t think I’ve yet bettered that first Satellite Gallery exhibition.

WNMS – After preparing for an exhibition do you feel like ‘a breather’ or are you brimming with ideas and want to get started on your next project straight away?

Usually I feel I need a break – and often I find myself working on music rather than art for the next couple of months.

WNMS – What inspires you to paint and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?

Inspiration often comes from visiting new places, or just going for long walks with my camera. And it’s the inspiration, when it arrives, that produces the motivation.

WNMS – Is your studio used for the whole art process or do you just use it for the tidying up/finishing process?

It’s a fairly small room, so there are some parts of the process I don’t do in there. I tend to use it for the actual painting process, but the preparatory computer work and things like the canvas stretching I tend to do elsewhere.

WNMS – Do you work on multiple pieces at a time?

No – unless you count one painting and music. It’s very rare that I have more than one painting on the go at once – again the small studio space is a factor there, though I find that working on two or more works dilutes the energy I put into any one of them.

WNMS – How much of your work is commissioned?

Very little – I’d like to do more commissioned work, but at the moment only a tiny bit of the work is for commissions.

WNMS – Do you ever push yourself to finish something that is arguing with you through the whole creative process?

Yes, though I often feel the finished work in those cases isn’t as good. I find it difficult to start a new work unless I’ve completed the previous one.


WNMS – Tell me about your computer art?

Well, I think of the painted and computer art as part of the same continuum, largely because I use the computer so much for my painting – the works that are purely computer based are more of a hobby. The computer plays a big part in my paintings though, since I start from photographs and play around with them in photoshop and paint the resulting images. It becomes sort of like the midwife to my paintings.

WNMS – Do you prefer to be on your own while you work?

Yes – I’m pretty self-conscious of my work until I feel it’s finished.

WNMS – Do you work in silence or have music/radio in the background or maybe the foreground?

I usually have music on in the background – exactly what the music is depends on the work, though a lot of it is quiet ambient music. But for some works, songs are better, and for some classical is better. The music’s an important element in the work, though – most of my paintings refer to music in the titles, as well.

WNMS – Has the influx of social media changed the way you market your art?

Only a little – I do display new works on my facebook page, I’m a member of a few artist-related groups on there too, and I have a website of course, but I’m still largely trying to come to grips with the new technology.

WNMS – Do you work with sale in mind?

Sometimes, but not very often. More often it’s a case of finding something I want to paint or to see painted.

WNMS – How does place – Dunedin –influence your work?

Very much, both in terms of the landscape and townscape, which is the subject of a lot of my work, and in terms of the people – the arts community here is very close-knit and friendly, and it’s also very large for a city this size. There’s also a big crossover between the local music and art scenes, with many people being involved in both. Dunedin’s the perfect city in many ways – big enough to have most of the services anyone could need, small enough that it’s still friendly rather than being grey and anonymous, and within easy reach of some marvellous scenery and landscapes.

WNMS – What are you currently painting/creating?

I’m just starting to head back into painting after a couple of months concentrating on music (I’ve played a number of gigs as part of New Zealand music month). I have a number of small canvases waiting, and I’m currently looking through some recent townscape photos to see which are likely to make the best new paintings.


WNMS – And your interests outside of the art world?

Well music, as is pretty obvious from the other answers here… I enjoy watching sport (I used to play football). I’m regarded as something of an expert on the history and design of flags and have been called upon on several occasions to talk about that. I’ve had a couple of poems published. I’m an administrator on Wikipedia, too. I enjoy going for long walks, regularly attend pub quizzes, love old movies, and have also been, from time to time, involved in the science fiction fan community (and was a guest of honour at the national science fiction convention in 1996). I seem to collect books (there’s virtually no free wall space at home).

WNMS – We’ve been fostering a quaky cat from Christchurch for the past 5 months. We’re hoping she may be a permanent addition to our household as we’re quite smitten with her. Is there a resident cat in the Dignan household?

Definitely. A house isn’t a home unless it has a cat. We used to have two, Nut and Bolt, but sadly Bolt went out for a walk one day and never came back. Nut now rules the household – and lives up to his name, too. He’s a standard black and white cat (either that or a land orca…)

WNMS – I’ve read you’re a keen ‘flagman’. We have a guy in our suburb who has a different flag flying outside his house every day.  He even writes the name of the country on a board in his window so we can identify the flag as we pass. Does that idea appeal to you?

I do the same when the weather permits! I have a collection of about 100 flags, and converted the old, rusting rotary clothes line in the back garden into a flagpole, with the help of a length of pipe and some pulleys. Given that the section where the house is, is sloping, the flags can be seen from a fair distance across south Dunedin.



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