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James Hogan: Art Upstart presents his colourful take on the counter-culture


The City PR man James Hogan, aka the Art Upstart, woke up one morning in 2007, at the age of 55, with an overwhelming desire to paint. “It came as a great flood to me, out of the blue,” he says of his “spiritual awakening” . “It was all-consuming; I had in my head a triptych of three lots of 75 paintings each – a total of 225.”

He stormed off like a starved man to buy tubes of paint, canvases, easels and lots of knives. Much to the amazement of his now ex-wife and two children, he turned a room at his six-bedroom house in Kingston, Surrey, into his studio. Immediately, Hogan had a style – his thick multi-layered abstracts are created with a palette knife and contain explosive colours and complex ideas, using the shapes of childhood. He painted 75 canvases between 2007 and 2010 in his first series, “Genesis”, which included current-affairs topics, 9/11 and Haiti. He posted them anonymously on the Art Upstart website and blogged about setting up a solo show. When he rented a gallery in London’s Mayfair and published a book, The Art Upstart, in 2010, he also came out as a former producer on of BBC’s Question Time turned well-known PR executive.

His debut show was critically acclaimed. Claire Bailey-Coombes, the former senior valuer at Christie’s and head of Irish sales, compared him to Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, whose work Hogan didn’t know. Now 61, Hogan is showing about 20 works from his second series, “Close To The Edge”, at the offices of HUSER Build and Design, a company in Parson’s Green, west London, owned by his friend Pascal Huser. The two of them decided to showcase Hogan’s new collection, inspired by the counter-culture in an office, to avoid gallery commission fees on paintings that will cost £4,000 to £8,000 each. Hogan used to paint as a child but stopped at 13 when he was traumatised by the death of his father. These latest works “interpret the spiritual and hedonistic feelings” evoked by various counter-cultural movements. The first paintings in the series evoke the colours of the counter-culture – bright oranges, reds and greens. There is a “Love” and “Sleep” series. Sleep 1 (above) in blues, gold and white, shows a swirl suspended in mid-air and contains the symbol of infinity.

“Many in the counter-culture believed American society in particular was insane and that, in order to preserve your sanity, you had to withdraw from it.” Hogan is also exploring sleep because so many people find it hard to switch off due to information overload.

‘Close To The Edge’, HUSER Build and Design, 26 Parsons Green Lane, London SW6 (www.huser.co.uk), 19 to 21 June. (www.jameshoganart.com)