Art and Home Interiors with James Mackie

Earlier this year we opened our latest legal, property and lettings office in Coldstream, however this office is a little bit different.

As well as offering our normal services, the office is also Hastings First Gallery, the first (and last) art gallery in Scotland.

Our autumn exhibition launched earlier this month sharing a stunning selection of paintings from artist, interior designer and musician, James Mackie.

As someone with a creative and interesting background, we sat down with James to pick his brains on all things art, interiors and what advice we can all use in our own homes.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am an oil painter and musician. In my youth I had an unconditional offer to study art at Goldsmiths in London but never got there because Rock & Roll intervened. I joined the Two-tone band The Selecter playing Hammond organ and sax and later went on to play piano for Madness in the mid ‘80s.

Throughout this time and alongside my subsequent career as a composer I developed a wide range of specialist painting skills, undertaking decorative mural work, marbling, graining and gilding in houses across Britain.

Later this developed into a full interior design business and an opportunity to get back to my first love – the canvas.

What do you draw inspiration from for your work?

My fascination with classical techniques has led to a love of classical art – and vice versa.

I love to find narrative in a painting. Drama is good too, as is atmosphere and something to take away and think about. Like all painters, though, I am fascinated by light, colour, design and proportion.

“If you paint, you are on a journey about learning to see. Not simply recognise, but to actually see how something is represented in colour and tone.”

That’s where the marbles come in.

Constellation – James Mackie

Marbles are not the most common of subject matters for art, what has drawn you to them?

My youngest daughter used to collect marbles, and my wife and I used to pick them up for her wherever we went. The collection is large and we still have them all at home.

If you are interested in learning to see and you don’t mind a challenge, then painting a marble (or 84 of them as in ‘Constellation’ on display at your gallery) might be for you. They are amazing. Magical. Modest. Beautiful. Some are complex characters, others are simple and transparent. Put them together in a community and they reflect off each other making each other more complex and rich.

Some of my painted marbles are two-feet across and the study of the flame, the distortions and all the bubbles at that scale is quite involved. I have found that when you place these lovely innocent objects into different environments and narratives, they add emotion and a connection with the viewer. ‘Colours of ‘22’ in your gallery is a good example of this – a response to Russia’s invasion.

Colours of 22 – James Mackie

What is your process for creating a piece of art?

There is often a lot of preparation as my work generally takes a long time. All painting is a leap of faith, but I must be sure that it’s on the right track before I embark on a five or six-month piece.

I use oil paints with various mediums in order to achieve a transparency and glow by building up layers of coloured glaze and then finish with thicker paint for foreground detail.

What advice would you give anyone looking to create art whether that is for their own enjoyment or for others?

Both art and interiors must start in the same place.

A painting must grow out of the painter’s character – their sensibilities must come into the work, and it should be recognisable as their unique voice.

A truly successful interior is not, in my opinion, something imposed on a house by a designer who says, ‘this is what’s IN at the moment’.

Designers can help steer a project and can introduce the client to an outcome that perhaps they wouldn’t have achieved by themselves.

“Mistakes can be avoided, and tips employed but, in the end, it will only become a true home when the character of the homeowners is really expressed.”

As an interior designer, what advice would you give to someone looking to update their home?

I’ll answer this practically with my best tip. If you are thinking of doing a room from scratch, never ever start with the wall paint colour. I have lost count of the people who came to us for help who started like that.

Start with the fabrics. Fall in love with a curtain fabric, a blind, a sofa any of the bigger ticket items. Get a sample of the fabric you’re going to use and build your design from there – floor covering, cushions etc. Make sure they all complement each other and then, at the end, choose the wall colour.

Many people paint the room and then go looking for a magical assortment of fabrics and carpets that work with that one colour. It’s a nightmare. Finding a shade that works at the end is simple and can lead to a choice you may never have considered to start with.

Describe your dream home to us in three sentences

My modest cottage in Ancrum. A beautiful village in the best area in Britain. Heritage, community and the best neighbours in the world.

What is your favourite part of the Scottish Borders?

I’ve been all over Scotland throughout my life and the area around Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose and Coldstream is just the best. The train line to Edinburgh opening has made it even more attractive. There is endless inspiration around every corner. My oil painting of Fatlips Castle is just one of the results.

Is there anything else you’d love to share with us?

I’d just like to wish you luck in your venture with the gallery. It is a great project. The cultural life of the Borders is worth shouting about.

Everyone is welcome to come in and browse James’ exhibition which is on until January. All the art works are available for purchase however there is no pressure to buy; we just want you to enjoy this feast for the eyes. If you do make a purchase, Hastings Legal and Hastings First Gallery don’t charge the artist any fees or commission, so what you pay is what the artist gets.

“Mistakes can be avoided, and tips employed but, in the end, it will only become a true home when the character of the homeowners is really expressed.”James Mackie

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