Watercolours: Painting with Light

Opening on 28 Feb, James Faure Walker LG at Felix & Spear. 

Wenhaston 2023, 56 x 76 cm

Watercolours: Painting with Light
28 February – 24 March 2024
Felix & Spear, 71 St. Mary’s Road, London W5 5RG
Wed-Fri 11-6; Sat-Sun 12-3

A painter friend remarked that watercolour was dead easy. This surprised me. I think
of it as difficult.

Why? Because it means working with paint that is almost transparent. Oil, acrylic,
gouache, are opaque, like paste, with body and covering power. With watercolour you
are painting with light. In its pure form (without Chinese white) you have only the
whiteness of the paper. Every tint is back-lit, and radiant. That is the beauty of it. You
lay down some cobalt blue and watch as it radiates out from under a magenta wash.
Colours blend or seep into each other, the edges soften. It is a ‘live’ form of painting.
There is no script.

In my case I have only half an idea of what I want. I work it out as I go along. I hope I
can improve on whatever I attempted yesterday. Bert Irvin used to speak of doing
without ‘carpentry’ – the safety net of the grid. He was after the free-floating light of

During Lockdown I was away from my studio. I worked digitally, revisiting earlier work,
enjoying the speed and freedom, the play of shape, line, and colour. I became
fascinated with vintage radios. I produced a set of prints: ‘The Wireless Set’. Art Deco
was confidently ‘modern’: streamlined, hard-edged and technological. Today it serves
as a good antidote to misty-eyed pastoral motifs – always a lure for the watercolourist.
I began a sequence of gouaches, to feed into the digital collages. They soon went their
own way.

I only think of a title after a picture is finished. Occasionally I spot something walking
home after work – ‘silver shoes’ – and there is the title. I relish the translucent shadows
on the wet pavement, like delicate glazes. I see bikes weaving in and out of traffic,
dress patterns, rain clouds on the horizon…. It is one of the rewards of painting that
your eyes tune into inconsequential details.

Wenhaston is famous for its medieval ‘Doom’ painting. This is a title I have borrowed.
We walked to the church last September, following instructions from a fifty-year-old
book of Suffolk walks. Landmarks? The oak tree, the railway track, the shed, were all
gone; the bridge on the stream was a pile of rubble; the sweetcorn was so tall you
couldn’t see the path. Of the two pubs for lunch, one had disappeared, and the other
was closed on Mondays. It was a Monday.

I think of that walk as pleasantly doomed – a pilgrim’s progress for the curious
watercolourist. You hope for a pleasant stroll, but your guide is unreliable. You survive
the snares, temptations, ordeals, the false prophets. And somehow you get to the
painting in the end, but it’s not the painting you expected.

James Faure Walker LG, 2024

Flagship Sunrise 2023, 56 x 76 cm, watercolour

James Faure Walker (born 1948) studied at St Martins School of Art and the Royal
College of Art. Solo exhibitions include the Whitworth, Manchester (1985); ARB,
Cambridge (2015); Clifford Chance, Canary Wharf (2022); Class Room, Coventry (2017);
and Felix & Spear (2018, 2020, 2022). Group shows include Hayward Annual (1979),
John Moores (1982, 2002), Serpentine Summer Show (1983), and Digital Pioneers,
Victoria and Albert Museum (2009). He was a co-founder of Artscribe magazine in
1976, and its editor for eight years. He has been using computers in painting since
1988. He exhibited eight times at SIGGRAPH, USA, and regularly at DAM, Berlin. He
won the ‘Golden Plotter’ at Computerkunst, Germany in 1998. His ‘Painting the Digital
River’ (Prentice Hall) was published in the USA in 2006. He has 28 works in the V&A
Collection. He won the Royal Watercolour Society Award in 2013 and was RWS
Honorary Curator for five years.

Distant Burning 2024, 56 x 76 cm, watercolour