LIGHT AND SHADE: Artist James Drinkwater at lunch with Scott Bevan (Picture: Jonathan Carroll). Above, Drinkwater and wife and fellow artist Lottie Consalvo in Germany, where they lived and worked. “I remember waiting for the model to come out, I was just shitting myself;‘Please don’t take your clothes off, please don’t take your clothes off’,” he says. “She came out, and with the first few drawings, [she was] draped. Thank God!After three or four drawings, the gown just fell to the floor. I was just mortified …I’ve still got the drawings. [The classes]became a religious thing for me, part of my training, two nights a week for about eight years.”
By the end of high school, being a painter seemed a given for Drinkwater. He wasaccepted intothe National Art School in Sydney. It may have been “an incredible course”, but it didn’t hold his interest. He quit after a year.
“I was just eager to get a studio and start expressing myself, book a room, and have a show,” he says. “To me, it [art school] was just getting in the road of that ambition.”
Yet he deviated off that road for a time. He pursued music. Ever since he was a small child, James and his brother learnt music from their mum, who played guitar and piano. For about five years from the age of 19, Drinkwater was a musician. He moved to Melbourne and, along with brother Nick, wasin a band called Dirty Pink Jeans, which recorded and toured. For Drinkwater, being in a band wasn’t about the fame or the money –which didn’t come –but “it was that brotherhood, that camaraderie, that total faith; it’s an incredible rite of passage”.
One night at a gig in Melbourne, he meta young woman he thought was stunning in every way. Her name was Lottie Consalvo. He went to an after-show party at her apartment. She showed him her art portfolios. But she wasn’t doing much painting then. He showed her images of his paintings. Not that he was doing many new works, even if he had a little studio in his bedroom and he took drawing books with him on tour.
“I did a drawing of her really quickly and she said, ‘Why are you not painting?’…. You’ve got to paint, you’ve got to do this’.And I said, ‘Well, why aren’tyou painting?’. At that stage she was doing a degree and other things. So I think we created something there together, we almost made a pact to get back to that.”
James Drinkwater broke up his band to return to the journey of being a painter.But it was no longer a solo journey. He and Lottie became a couple. They increasingly devoted their lives to painting and even measured the cost of living in paint. Apint of beer, for example, equalled half a tube of paint.They married and decided to move to Berlin to be full-time artists: “There has to be that moment where you lose the safety net and back yourself.”
After three years in Germany, their art and reputations were blossoming. They could have gone anywhere.They chose Newcastle. Lottie also had family connections here,and it was her idea to move to James’ hometown.
“There was a little bit of caution – ‘Are we dropping off?’ – but again we backed ourselves, thinking in tubes of paint,” hesays. “And looking at friends in Sydney working multiple jobs, here we could just paint.”
They have continued to journey far and wide. After winningthe Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship in 2014, Drinkwater, and his young family, spent three months in Paris. They have also travelled to Tahiti, and Drinkwater has recently been on a painting expeditionin Central with another Novocastrian who opens eyes with his vibrant abstract expressionism, John Olsen.
Whilethose locationsmake their way into Drinkwater’spaintings, hisart is not strictly about place. It is about finding place. It is about celebrating his placein the world, and those he shares it with. In the past few years, with exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne,London and Singapore, the world has beenopening up for James Drinkwater. Yet James Drinkwater’s world is very much at home.
“The best week I can ever have is a clear Monday to Friday, where we get to do normal nights with bath,dinner and books [with the children], seeing what Lottie made that day in the studio;that’s the richest thing I could possibly experience,” he says.
From December 9, the art of Lottie Consalvo and James Drinkwater will be on show at The Lock Up in Newcastle. They may be a supportive and creative couple, but they are individual artists, so there will be two exhibitions, two different visions, in the space. Drinkwater explains he and his wife had explored different ways to collaborate for the show, but ultimately “that felt too obvious”.
“A lot of artist couples don’t work, because there’s a lot of jealousy,” he says. “We’ve never had that. We just celebrate. As long as we can potter around, doing what we’re doing, we’re blissfully happy.”