Our ongoing series of Q&As with some of the city’s most intriguing artists. This week, we meet James Peter Henry, a prolific and passionate painter whose canvases and murals combine narrative and stylistic influences from contemporary street art with European art historical movements like cubism and surrealism and the talismanic power of elements from the aboriginal arts he grew up surrounded by in his native Australia. The results are kaleidoscopic tableaux rich with dense, sexy pattern and detail, striking lines, exuberant color and timeless yet modern imagery.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
JAMES PETER HENRY: As a kid I didn’t realize that I was different than most people, I just thought, “I can do this and so can everyone else.” As an adult, I realized I was different when people would be mesmerized by watching me draw. That’s when I realized that not everyone thinks of art like I do. Art for me is like breathing, I just have to draw and paint, I have to do something creative.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
Curiosity. Through my art I explore our purpose on this earth, human existence; through painting I am looking to find our greater purpose as a species.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I’d be a different person, I would have come to this earth as a different person. I feel so strongly about what I do that I can’t imagine doing anything else with this life.
Did you go to art school? Why/why not?
No. I didn’t want to be skewed by formal teaching. I wanted to approach the canvas with my natural creativity, unadulterated.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
L.A. has such beautiful diversity, and I love how graffiti culture and fine-art culture merge here. The weather is a nice perk, too, of course!
When was your first show?
I was 17 years old and it was a show at the town that I grew up in in Victoria, Australia. My teachers encouraged me to have an exhibition, so I did. It may have been a collaboration with someone else but I kind of took over.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I have a regular installation of work at the La Peer Hotel and I just participated in a live-painting event there for Frieze Week Art After Dark. I am currently working on a new mural at the Santa Fe Lofts; there will be a VIP opening for that in April.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
I would love to have an exhibition with an aboriginal artist.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
I do, mainly gospel and classical music. In the early days I listened to a lot of R&B.
Website and social media handles, please!