Creativity is this scientist’s absurd Plan B

Armidale-based artist James O’Hanlon

SCIENTIST-TURNED-ARTIST James O’Hanlon features in a solo exhibition at New England NSW creative hub The Makers Shed across autumn, with an array of work inspired by exploration, discovery and pushing the limits of perception.

According to James, art as been a hobby for most of his career, “an indulgence when I had spare time and inspiration,” he says.

“Perhaps because of this, my art has become a means of complete escapism. 

“The subjects of my art are from other worlds and universes, silly ones that probably don’t make much sense. 

“Why? Because I can, and that’s the gift that art gives us, isn’t it?” James says.

‘Dirigifish’ (acrylic on canvas) by James O’Hanlon

After moving to the New England region with his family five years ago to start a new job, James says he never imagined switching careers and becoming a freelance artist and illustrator with a nifty sideline in murals.

“This region has been the backbone of my creative career and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support, enthusiasm and opportunities given to me by local people, businesses and organisations,” he says.

Sandbox to play in

In his scientific career, James has spent years exploring the natural world, so it’s no surprise that quirky animal characters feature heavily in ‘Plan B’, the title he gave his Glen Innes exhibition. 

“I have always admired artists who create their own little worlds to explore and fill them with endearing creatures,” he says.

“Whether it’s the cute clay-formed world of Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit, or the dark and gritty world of comic artists like Greg Capullo and Todd McFarlane [both North American comic book artists], I love getting an insight into the minds and passions of the creators themselves. 

“Changing the world is difficult in real life, but fictional worlds give us a sandbox to play in and explore new possibilities before we can take the first steps of making change in the real world.”

Throughout the works in Plan B, art lovers will experience themes of exploration and discovery; small characters encountering new environments and pushing the limits of their perception. 

“I enjoy creating expressive characters placed in absurd circumstances to explore ideas about how we perceive our own life experiences,” James says.

“I celebrate underdogs, problem solvers, ugly ducklings, fish out of water, and the just plain unlucky. 

“I use a range of mediums including acrylics, watercolours, ink, and digital art to tell stories, and hopefully make people smile and quietly guffaw.”

Entrepreneur

After focussing on his art career about two years ago, just as COVID started and the arrival of his daughter, James experienced a hectic two years in his new creative direction.

“It’s not a career path that I would recommend others take,” he says. 

“Nevertheless, it’s been an incredible journey so far with many more highs than lows, and experiences I never thought I would have, doing everything from illustrating books to learning how to drive a scissor lift to paint large scale murals.

“I love to work! This mindset has been very helpful because being a practicing artist is being a small business and dealing every day with very non-artsy sounding things like finances and time management. 

“I’m working hard on being as much an entrepreneur as I am a creative. 

“As much as I like bringing my own ideas to life, I also enjoy being a service provider and helping other peoples visions come to life! I am looking into the future and am excited about working with more people and organisations to bring some colour and light into their lives and communities,” he says.

Plan B: works by James O’Hanlon, The Makers Shed, 123 Grey Street Glen Innes, until May 28. A selection of works is for sale online.

Main image: ‘Humperdink’ (acrylic on canvas) by James O’Hanlon.

Digging deep for genres

I RECENTLY read two great examples of #EcoFictionThe Breaking by Irma Gold, straight off the back of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

These are extraordinary and very different books, and genres aren’t really important unless you’re marketing a title and you need to know where to put it in a catalogue or on a bookshop shelf, but they have many commonalities.

Not that long ago – around the time I was completing final edits on my debut novel Tank Water – I realised that it, too, has a genre. This was a thrilling discovery! Everyone needs friends, after all, and #OutbackNoir is a broad church (probably standing on a barren ridge, or on the edge of a desert) with several side chapels, ruined of course.

It’s an extension of the bookshop darling #RuralFiction, but the use of the French word ‘noir’ (black’) is the clue, suggesting a story that’s dark, perhaps a little bit disturbing, and certainly dramatic. ‘Outback’ speaks for itself… we’re not in the suburbs on this bookshelf.

Speaking of France, darkness and drama, this short clip (below) was recorded on a family trip to Grottes Préhistoriques de Cougnac, just outside Gourdon in that country’s southwest.

I dug it out because my next book, now in that exciting phase of manuscript polishing, and set in the recesses of one of the world’s largest open cave systems right here in NSW, is seeking a genre. I’m not sure #UndergroundNoir even exists, although with a story about a pioneering female cave explorer, I shouldn’t be shy of new territory.

Annie Seaton’s Undara certainly fits the bill, described as #EcoAdventure, but I’m keen to know what other pieces of fiction you’ve encountered that involve journeys beneath the surface of the Earth.

Please dig deep and put your thoughts in the comments thread!

%d bloggers like this: