Raised in Devon, James began his interest in wood through his parents’ antique restoration business. He became a fully-fledged cabinet maker in his late teens, years of whittling, carving and refinishing had made their mark. While attending college he had started his own antiques business with a weekend stand at Portobello Market in London. The exhilaration of being self sufficient with a large chunk of cash in his pocket every Sunday afternoon made college seem unattractive by comparison.
He first travelled to the Philippines in 1989 assisting a friend with his costume jewellery business. It was love at first sight. He was entranced by the countryside, the beaches, the wildlife and above all by the people with their natural flair for colour and artistry.
In 1990 he set up a company designing and making a range of wooden objects to sell which included large papier mâché animals and pieces of fine furniture made from wood salvaged from old, demolished hardwood houses.
In 2005 he started to explore the possibilities of driftwood as a medium. The natural and organic shapes he initially thought could be used for furniture, but he soon realised animal sculpture was an exciting way to utilise the form of the driftwood.
He has extensive local knowledge of most of the larger islands that make up the Philippines archipelago. Through his outdoor sports and travel he has built up a small network of driftwood gatherers who provide much needed money to impoverished provincial villages. For every kilo of driftwood that James buys he plants a seedling on denuded hills in North and South Cebu. He has started a program called 80,000 trees which aims to plant 80,000 trees over the course of the next 15 years.
James has amassed an extensive collection of driftwood, varying in size and form from small pieces to large natural sculptures, each piece hewn by natural forces into a myriad of individual shapes. The wood is found along the shorelines, riverbeds and valleys of the archipelago and is predominantly one specie of wood which is incredibly oily and dense enough to withstand decades of exposure; both extreme tropical climate and intense frosts. Indeed, this wood has already withstood at least a half century of exposure since dying.
He works in his studio full time alongside a small team of assistants who help him sort and clean the wood, weld the steel frames and generally assist where and whenever they are needed.
James exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show, London each May where in 2013, he was awarded the Director General’s Award for the best stand.
With commissions from overseas and a wide collector base his animals have an unmistakeable verve and vitality.