Jim Read is the creative director and chief designer at the mega Shropshire success story that is Newgate World - famous for its funky clocks and watches. He has reconnected with his passion for painting and now his first ever exhibition coming up at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery this June 17 & 18.
When he was at school, Jim Read says he was 'mad about art' - the art room was his favourite place and he had an inspirational teacher, who he loved.
Things didn't work out so well at art college, however; he was kicked out for being naughty, disheartened with the 'lacklustre' course. It seemed a career in art was out of the question. But then he met his wife Chloe and the pair set up Newgate, and Jim turned his hand to designing clocks, dials, cases, catalogues and trade stands which, he says, mostly kept him happy 'from an arty point of view'.
Now 53, Jim says he was too busy to notice the years passing as they built their now iconic British fashion and lifestyle brand: "I was 20 when we started Newgate and the business dragged us along," he reflects. "I guess we lost twenty years of being heads down rushing around the world making and selling clocks.
"When I hit 40 and started questioning what I ‘should have’ been doing with my life, I realised I had missed and was still missing being an artist."
Jim began painting and found the passion was very much there still: "In fact I loved it. I was able to be off the wall, no boundaries, just paint what I like," he says.
He began experimenting with eccentric bodies 'some slightly suggestive, some not' and found himself caught in a train of thought he wanted to pursue. It's a medium which suits his overactive brain perfectly - he knows instinctively what he wants and gets a huge kick out of realising it in oils.
The day job gets in the way, however - he has a studio at home in an historic property near Town Walls, but getting to spend time in it is a challenge:
"It’s not easy finding studio time with a busy company to run, especially through Covid. In fact I was planning on having this show two years ago when the pandemic put the kybosh on that. We’ve had to focus on Newgate during the last two years but I hope now to devote more time to getting paint on canvas. But it’s a great release. Product design is quite different, very disciplined, whereas painting is boundless.
"While I do love technical digital processes, I also reel against that discipline and sometimes want to go off piste, follow no rules and experiment loosely with paint, creating something I could never repeat."
Jim paints at home in a ground floor reception rooms with large Georgian windows and plenty of space, usually to loud music, to guide his thoughts and give him energy: "Weekends are my painting time. It’s not a relaxing process, it’s stressful as I must get down on canvas what I have in my mind and without it taking forever."
'Female on medical bed' from Jim Read's 'Stark Naked' collection: "The image is part homage to Francis Bacon, but also echoes my curiosity for mental asylums that I picked up while watching The Hammer House of Horror and Frankenstein as a child," Jim says.
The exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery on June 17 & 18 will be Jim's first: "I’m really doing it just to mark a moment in time," he explains. "I’ve amassed a lot of paintings and images and this is a way for me as much as anyone else to see them all in one place at one time. It would be nice for some to go to good homes. I can’t keep them piling up forever!
"Also, many people have been lovely over the years about my pictures and some have been keen to own pieces, so I would like for those people to see everything displayed nicely rather than stacked up around the house."
Jim's 19-year-old daughter Ruby will also be showing some of her paintings at her dad's exhibition: "She has a really cool look to her work, she’s studying at Camberwell Uni in London at the moment and she seems to have a very stylish eye and lots to say in her paintings," Jim says.
Whilst Jim enjoys sketching and producing very graphical digitally created art, his real preference is oil paint: "It really is like painting with butter. It's such a lovely thing to mix and spread across canvas and it gives great freedom."
Currently, Jim is experimenting with the female form, with a playful, almost sculptural approach: "I don’t paint faces because faces distract too much from everything else, if they had eyes they would be the first thing you look at, I didn’t want that," he says.
'First Female' from Jim's 'Stark Naked' collection: "This was the first of my paintings when I was 40," Jim says. "I wanted it to be a primitive style sculpture, hence the vertically flat parquet flooring and naive hair. She has a whimsical body and the experiment was all about shape - curvy flowing lines and a slightly 'edgy' subject instead of one that was too safe."
Jim will be showing two collections in Shrewsbury. His Stark Naked collection is more old school and free flowing, with big brush strokes and more muted colours, whereas Kaleidoscope is more graphical and two dimensional and uses primary colours.
"Kaleidoscope is very much based on a style I experimented with when I was a kid," Jim says. "The colourful paintings take such a long time, they may look simple but cutting in smooth straight lines is painstaking, and each colour takes quite a few coats."
Jim describes himself as a 'modern classicist': "It's hard to paint classically only, when I want to be modern too. So I hope to continue being free with my styles, and perhaps more consistent with my ideas, and its that that will be the cement that glues my ideas together," he says.
At home, Jim and Chloe are avid art collectors themselves - a hobby sometimes bordering on obsession, Jim admits. He prefers Pop art and large scale pieces, hence his inclination to paint large himself, and is a regular visitor to Tates Modern and Britain and the National Portrait Gallery and many other galleries and events. Of course the Read family has some of Jim's art on the walls too ('otherwise, where do you put it?!' Jim says).
"I like to ponder over a painting I've completed and what I'll do next time."
Jim will be launching a website on June 17th to showcase his work - find him at jimread.art - and has made a promise to himself to make more time for painting and to start producing more work. Watch this space!
'Female Reclining in a Glass Case' - Jim says: "By now I have fully moved on to the more modern style of the 'Kaleidoscope' collection, using primary colours and playing on a style I used to draw and colour in as a kid. I wanted this piece to have a museum feel to it by putting the subject in a glass case."