Introducing The Series from Ben Sherman, a curated collection of inspiring individuals, including James Chuter, Bushy, Tom Ravenscroft, and Nicholas Sinclair.
An illustrator and model, James Chuter’s work pops up all over the world. His unique, colorful, and playful illustrations captivate the imagination. He plays with shape and design, much like Ben Sherman himself when he introduced the gingham shirt to the UK in 1963. We met with James in his studio to talk all things Jurassic Park and chance opportunities at Bondi Beach.
Tell us a little about your path to becoming an artist?
I was always drawing as a young kid, often on the floor of my bedroom with films on in the background. Alien, Terminator, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Jaws were on heavy rotation, so I was often copying spaceships and creatures and making up my own characters. My dad always doodled on paper when he was on the phone, so I learned to love filling a page with random marks and shapes with no real plan on how it would end up. Then around 10 years old or so, we had a new art teacher at school who was incredibly supportive and introduced me to Keith Haring. I loved the bold outlines and colors, and it was probably the first time I was aware of people painting large murals.
At college I quit art due to a much less supportive teacher and focused on studying film. I also became pretty obsessed with making music on Logic Pro. Whenever I had spare time I'd always gravitate toward that over drawing. My art style had become quite boring to execute, which at the time was quite complex but random ink doodles. They were always hard to finish and a chore to draw. Other than designing some record sleeves for some DJ friends towards the end of University, I barely drew anything for years.
I knew I needed to make it fun again and started thinking about how. While living in Sydney, I ran past the Bondi Beach front wall, which is filled with murals organized by the council—so I gave them a call and they assigned me a spot. It was just the change I needed. The time limit forced me to push through and finish, and interacting with the public throughout the day was really interesting. That wall got me a commission in New York when I was over there a few months later, so I decided to really start working hard at it when I got back to London at the start of 2017. Since then I've finished nearly 50 walls and installations and am loving it. It’s great to have found my passion again after so many years without it.
Your work is often very playful and colorful. Has this always been an element of your work or has it drastically developed over time?
Color has been new. Before I started painting walls, I used to draw black and white ink doodles. So my first wall was basically a large version of this. I used a black paint pen for the entire thing and for the next five or six walls after that. The amount of color has increased as I've started to learn how to use spray paint.
I never intended to use so much color. In part it’s probably a reaction to the often grey, dull streets I'm painting on. I think a couple of ideas I had needed color, and people have really responded to that, and then requested it when booking me for commissioned work. I’ve had a couple UV neon commissions recently. That’s been a fun challenge, as you have to find a way to make six very different colors work together. I still feel like I'm finding my style, so [I'm] keen to experiment with different color palettes.
You’ve been lucky to travel the world through modeling. Has modeling given you a bigger platform for drawing, and do you often combine the two?
I have been incredibly lucky. Unfortunately for most of my travels I wasn’t drawing so haven’t left my mark that much! Modeling has given me the chance to spend quite a lot of time in New York over the last 10 years—a city I find very inspiring. While living there on and off, and through traveling all over for work, I’ve met many amazing and interesting people and made some very creative friends. I think this has really helped me start my art career, as that network of people have suggested me to their friends or colleagues for potential commissions and projects. I wouldn’t have had my first paid commission without a good friend suggesting me for it. At the moment I'm most grateful for modeling as it allows me to earn a living without working full time, which allows me to make art. Most valuably it relieves the pressure to have to support myself financially from my art alone. This allows me to turn down commissions that aren’t right for the development of my style or career—jobs I’d otherwise have to say yes to.
You’ve spent a lot of time in New York and Sydney; what draws you to these cities? Are these two cities also your favorite places to draw inspiration from for your art?
Firstly they are two of a handful of cities that are hubs for modeling—places you can stay for a few months and work regularly—so I’ve always taken advantage of that. I live in London and hate winter! So I chose Sydney initially as a way to escape winter for six months. I’d been before a couple times briefly and have some good friends over there, so it seemed like a no-brainer. As I mentioned before, living there rekindled my love for art. If it wasn’t for the local council being so supportive and letting complete amateurs tackle large public walls, I might not be painting today. Also living in such a beautiful country, by the sea, with fresh air and sun makes it hard to be stressed. And you’re much more likely to want to draw when you’re not stressed!
New York is definitely an inspiration. I could go on all day about that city. I find the energy, the attitude, the architecture, the sounds, the views, the sunsets, everything about it incredibly inspiring. There’s also a lot of galleries that support and show work from contemporary artists that I have been a big fan of for a while. I always have an amazing time when I am there. And it always inspires me to work harder.
Do you have any major plans for 2019 that we can hear about?
My goals for 2019 are to get much better with spray paint so I can experiment with shading and shadow in some new pieces. I’ve also had a rented studio space for the last few months that I hired so that I can start making canvas work. I’d love to have a gallery show in the future. I like the idea of being able to spend a week or two on a canvas, instead of a few days on a wall, so I'm interested to see how that changes my style. Other than that, I'll be juggling commissions and looking for bigger and better walls to paint. I’d love to try and paint in some new cities too.
If we took a look through your "Recently Listened To" on Spotify/Apple Music, who would we find?
I’ve started following playlists more recently so I'll name a few: Studio Barnhaus, Jazz Selected by MCDE, Rhythm Section HD, Tech Nicholson 27/05/17, This is: Philip Glass, Cinematic Orchestra, and a few jazz ones I've made myself. There’s also some great mixes on Soundcloud by Nightmares on Wax and FKJ that I listen to often.
What does Ben Sherman mean to you?
Ben Sherman means a lot to me! About 10 years ago I was booked for four of their advertising campaigns in a row, which really helped further my modeling career. I don’t think I would have had half the opportunities to work and travel so much with this job without that exposure quite early on. For a long time I had a shaved head (something I miss!) so I’ve found some of the mod subculture fashion has suited me quite well. The brand's changed a lot since I worked for them back then. I’m loving the casual suiting they do at the moment.
What’s your favorite Ben Sherman piece of clothing and why?
Probably a black Harrington jacket I was given while shooting one of their campaigns 10 years ago. It was something I immediately lived in and has lasted incredibly well. It’s a classic design and incredibly versatile. And of course it reminds me of being lucky enough to be part of the brand's advertising campaigns that kickstarted my modeling career.
How do you decide what to wear in the morning?
I definitely dress for function. When I find something I like I tend to stick to it! Nearly my entire wardrobe is basics in white, grey, black, and navy, paired with jumpers, coats, jeans, and jackets in the same colors! This way nearly everything I own works together and I don’t have to spend much time deciding what to wear. I’ve also found darker tones go better with my skin so I avoid bright or pale colors.