While some of us may be entering a lull as the festive season approaches, TNG member James Earley is keeping busy. As he explains, “I am always looking to the long term as my ambition is to be a relevant and significant artist today and also in hundreds of years from now.” Not surprisingly, given the quality and visual impact of his work, Earley’s dedication has not gone unnoticed – on Saturday 12th December, the self-taught artist is set to receive the Venice International Art Award, a prize awarded to international artists in acknowledgement of their artistic merit.
Earley has been selected for the award by a board of Italian art curators including International Contemporary Art Magazine’s Salvatore Russo, and will receive the prize at the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro in Venice in the presence of collectors, journalists, politicians and art lovers.
Earley’s work largely focuses on people who live on the very edge of society in a bid to help raise awareness of humanitarian issues in the world today. His passion for art began early in life, but his career in business meant that he could not focus on his craft until he made it his occupation in 2015. In the five short years since then, his career has been on the up and up.
Regarding his selection for the award this year, Earley says:
“The Venice International Art Award means so much to me because it seems that the tide is turning… I was told by many people in the art world to change subject matter as it was too harsh, too direct, too uncomfortable, but I could never change. I truly believe that art has to be a straight line from your heart and my paintings are ripped from my heart screaming. It seems that in 2020, more than ever, people are not going to accept all the injustices in the world today: the racism, the imperialism, the poverty. This award adds fuel to that fire.”
To learn more about the ideas and inspiration behind his work, we asked Earley to tell us about a few of his recent paintings.
“I remember seeing a famous Times Magazine article that wrote about a trend of 1960s theologians writing God out of the field of theology. Times were changing, modern science seemed to have eliminated the need for religion to explain the natural world, and God took up less and less space in people’s daily lives. The question asked was “Is God Dead?”.
“I saw this question from a completely different angle, I saw it as asking how God can exist when we are doing such evil things to our fellow human beings. This question grabbed my heart and I felt the feeling of strangulation when I saw these three words.
“This Magazine article brought me to my thoughts of Syria and the thousands of lost, shattered and bewildered faces of the children of Syria who have had to endure relentless bombing. They were seen as collateral damage, less important than power and money. I also remember seeing a drawing by a Syrian child of his thoughts of this war and I copied this drawing to create a tattoo on the boy’s chest, a scar that will stay with the child forever.”
“Economics is a painting centred on a homeless guy that I met in Amsterdam in 2019. I had seen Ronald a number of times during an exhibition that I had in Amsterdam. The last time that I saw him was early one morning when the streets were empty and quiet and he lay in a doorway asleep. At that point there seemed to be no-one else in Amsterdam, just Ronald and myself. The silence was deafening.
“I wanted to paint Ronald and I wanted to combine the painting with the contradictions that I saw in Amsterdam as well as the contradictions that I see everywhere else where the economy encourages the relentless pursuit of money whilst those who don’t quite fit in this model are spat out and forgotten. The rich are getting richer whilst the number of people homeless increases relentlessly.
“Something must not be working. We see the symbols of capitalism such as the brands of major corporations, we see the pile of dollars and the joke that this economic system plays whilst the other side of the painting shows Ronald exhausted, asleep, cold and hungry. We see a cardboard sign declaring the madness of the fact that ‘A Homeless man Sleeps on the streets in 2020’.
“A hand of a child reaches out through the letterbox representing the 33 percent of children in this world who live in poverty. In the corner is the crow the symbol of despair of gloom. Yet I want the painting to encourage. I can see the change beginning to happen, I can feel empathy everywhere and those in power who tried to suppress it are seeing their system crumble.”
I See The Man Everywhere
“Everywhere the Afghan child looks he sees conflict, he sees a threat. Imagine living your whole life with that fear. I can not begin to imagine it. I wanted to show an Afghan child proud of his heritage, proud of his country and his people yet if you look closely into his eyes you see what he sees – the “Man”, the threat. I wanted to show this threat in every other square in the painting: You pick up a card and is it a good or bad card, you walk on a path and is it a safe or unsafe path?
“These questions are forced upon a child whilst his childhood slips away.”
“American History is a painting about racism in the USA. I really wanted Donald Trump to play a central role in this painting. Donald Trump has had much to say about Mexican people, Chinese people and other races and I cringe at the hatred that comes out of his mouth and out of the mouths of other world leaders. I dream of someone in power who puts empathy at the top of his or her manifesto prioritising it over profit. It would be great to have a leader that sees everyone as equal, what an example to set.
“The child is a symbol of the fight, a child with a white hand gripping his arm, born into a world where so many doors are firmly closed, born in a country that grew from the seeds of slavery and has constantly reminded itself of these poisonous seeds yet the child clings on to the famous words ‘I have a dream’.
“I have recreated and reshaped the American flag in the background .The white upside down triangles are the hats worn by the Ku Klux Klan, the crosses in the top left corner burn and remind us of the burning crosses of the Ku Klux klan. The words describe the key events in this long war against racism and are torn into the fabric.”