Growing up sometimes comes from realising that there are two sides to yourself, just as there are two sides to a single coin, and that these two sides make one unique person. It is the reconciling of these, at times, opposing sides that makes us who we are. The Cornwall-born artist James Foot, who has spent the last 30 years deepening his roots in Gibraltar, is that type of person; one who appreciates the paradoxical elements that have made him who he is.
In the 1980s, he was protesting in anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons marches but has also dined with the higher-ups of the armed forces; a son of a farmer who rarely, if ever, left Cornwall and yet has spent his life travelling the world; a political progressive, that paints what he describes as ‘conservative paintings’.
James will be returning to Gibraltar and will be staging an art exhibition from March 24th-April 3rd [EDIT: Please note that this exhibition is now cancelled as Gibraltar manages the spread of COVID-19.] comprised of sketches and paintings that had been stored away in his former house in London, including works from around the time of his first arrival to Gibraltar. The collection depicts paintings made in Tangiers and Tarifa. His time in Tarifa in the summer of 1990 is what led him to first visit Gibraltar, a place that he admits he had no intention of coming to as it was a British naval base and yet, it was through the invitation of some English naval officers that invited him to Gibraltar, a place he would come to adore.
The year after his first visit, James was invited to exhibit in the John Mackintosh Hall after the then director Manolo Galliano had seen his exhibition in Tangiers, where James was living at the time. His watercolour paintings had been collected by many in the forces and many affluent families in Gibraltar since then. Interesting clientele for someone who describes himself as usually being on the “outside of things”.
The exhibition will express a life lived in and around Gibraltar
However, it was with these clients that James starting laying his foundations in Gibraltar. It was with the help of the Incumbent Admiral Jeremy Sanders and his wife, who he describes as having ‘adopted’ him, that he painted alongside and organised workshops in their residence at the Mount, before it became open to public use.
From then onwards, James had been living intermittently in Gibraltar whilst also exhibiting around the world and, later, finding his own artwork in homes as far as New York and Australia. In 1997, he was even commissioned to paint the handover ceremony in Hong Kong, and though exhibiting for just over thirty years, he also had the honour of seeing his artworks being handed down from one generation to another.
His paintings of architecture and other subjects are delicate and precise, though painted by an adventurous man described to have been radical in thought and life. James reflected on this, noting that psychologically it was a way of “containing one’s world”: “I neaten up my world, which has always been a bit living on the edge. Will I survive by selling enough? Never having a job; never, until recently, being married.”
It is a part of this world that Gibraltar has loomed heavily in both James’s life and his artwork. In his art, James has often painted the architecture of ‘Old Gibraltar’, which he describes as being “extremely paintable”, and in his life he has seen Gibraltar change a great deal in its form and its spirit. Having arrived as an openly gay man in 1990, when same-sex sexual activity was illegal before its decriminalisation in 1993, it might have been inconceivable at the time that he and his husband would have the first gay marriage to be officiated by a Governor of Gibraltar, His Exellency Edward Davis, in 2018. James had campaigned in Gibraltar during the 90s for equal rights and though that fight has won the day, he to this day continues enacting a “politics of compassion”.
Having spent much of the 1990s onwards in Gibraltar, exhibiting his works and then painting the many scenes that our small land has provided and then to be later married on the Rock, James is hoping to create a more permanent base here.
The exhibition that will take place in John Mackintosh Hall will express a life lived in and around Gibraltar, from its quaint corners and passageways in town to a painting he only recently found and will exhibit from a windy day on the Med Steps. The exhibition is sure to be a delight for many of those who have come to see his work in the past, or have bought his paintings. Likewise, it will be interesting to see art spanning thirty years in the life of James Foot: an adventurer, a watercolour painter, a rebel, a man of paradoxes.