#AnInterview – As you might know for you have read all my columns, I’m a sucker for anything with the slightest hint of humour, absurdity, oddness or farcicality and consider myself with pride as a buffoonesque puppet and my role model is Bianca Del Rio. This has been so for very long as I was gifted with being an overweight teenager in France in the ’90s, so a sense of humour had to be developed fast. This brings us to my first meeting with James Rielly’s work.

It was in one of those compilation books by Taschen (yes). I was struck, it was not really funny but definitely odd, and I was not too sure on how to define the painting that was here. It was more dignified than a comic, but also very flat, and the colours, why were they so soft?

I still have this impression when I look at one of his paintings as if entering in a delicious cascade of dreamy questioning and floating in between fun and odd. Now living and working in France, we still chatted in English. Here are James Rielly’s answers. / Instagram @jamesmrielly

How do you start your day?

If I am in Paris it’s finding a good coffee and croissant if I’m at my studio near Toulouse, It’s walking Sid my dog, named after the British actor Sid James.

If you were to paint one thing over and over what would it be?

In the past I bought a lot of second hands medical books, there is one image I return to all the time, I have been using this image for over 35 years. It’s of a beautiful boy one photo with eyes open, one with eyes closed.

Do you like exhibiting your work? What do you do on the openings?

I love to exhibit my artworks, for me, the artworks only become real when it is shown to someone. Sometimes it only takes one person to see it then it all becomes OK to move forward with the next one. Openings I still find frightening I managed it by getting drunk, not a good move. Now I try to talk to people.

What is your favourite place to think about a new painting?

In my studio surrounded by mountains of images with very loud music, this is how I spend most of my time.

What is your relation to past painters, and history of art?

There is one drawing I return to over and over by Gunter Brus, Art des Giftes, Dauer der Vergiftung, Sitz der Schmerzen. 1973. It makes me happy to know there are great artists out there working away or have left us amazing artworks such as Joe Brainard and Forrest Bess.

How did you develop this work you’re doing now?

Over the past few years, I have been working with images on paper, printing and watercolour. But recently I have started using oil paint again, on very small paintings.

For a long time, I would only spend one day on a painting/drawing. There may be a few days of planning, then one day to finish the painting. Now a painting may continue for a few years, I feel in no rush, I have no plan, but I do have to meet deadlines occasionally.

How did you meet your favourite collector?

I very rarely meet or know who buys my artwork. I try not to think about past work and move forward. One of my art/musician hero’s Derek Bailey, when asked what was his favourite work answered his next.

Why do we still paint in 2020?

To resonate, to be in touch with the wonder and mystery, to live inside the beautiful.

Where is Painting heading?

As the song says, Right round round round.

Can you tell me 3 colleagues whose work you admire?

Simon English, Neil Gall and Norbert Schwontkowski. Two are working one is not. Simon and Neil I have known for years both are great artists.

Norbert, I met when we both had studios at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in 1988/89, he was a good friend and is a great artist, I miss him.


James Rielly, a British artist, born in 1956, regularly exhibits his works internationally and to great acclaim.

Rielly’s works are subtle yet inherently dark. Slightly twisted psychology of the rites of passage is central to what Rielly’s works meditate upon regularly. The hesitation between life’s transitions depicted as we consider whether adolescences is genuinely innocent in light of how we behave as adults.

 He has had various artist residencies in places such as The Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, USA 1984/85, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin 1988/89, and The Momart fellowship, Liverpool Tate Gallery, 1995,

 residency at Auckland Print Studio in early 2019.

Thank you James, and thank you, reader.

All images belong to the Artist.