The broadcasting executive-turned-city PR man James Hogan has won plaudits for his first art exhibition at Cork Street, Hogan used to paint as a child but stopped when he was 13 after the death of his father. He launched the project under the pseudonym The Art Upstart, with its own blog, because he wanted to remain anonymous while taking on the art world. But the blog has gone viral and Hogan now has fans in the US, Canada and South America and an especially strong following in East Asia. Last week, the number of member signed up to his website jumped by 50 per cent to 15,000.
Chris Blackhurst 24.05.10
Many folk I know in the city are happy to enjoy a comfortable living, working long hours during the week, dining well, golfing and sailing at weekends. One who isn’t like that is James Hogan. Formerly at Brunswick, Hogan, 58, now plies his trade as a PR at College Hill.
But there is a determinedly different streak in James; for the past few years he has spent much of his free time painting. Not just anything that takes hi fancy but abstracts, joining philosophical and religious concepts with the saga of his own life and experiences.
If that seems ambitious that’s because it is. His plan is to complete 225 works. The first 28 go on show early next month at a gallery in Mayfair. He’s not had any training: he painted a lot as a child but then stopped completely when his father died. James was aged just 13.
Then, one morning, some 40 years later, he woke up with a compulsive desire to paint. Stored in his head were hundreds of abstract images and he felt the need to put some of them on canvas.
I’m no qualified judge but I do think by combining his personal odyssey (he was in television before becoming a financial PR) with what is effectively the story of time, James provides a unique and insightful intellectual challenge. Certainly, the result of his incredible effort is a rare collision of pulsating colours and exploding ideas.
If that wasn’t brave and remarkable in itself, Hogan has applied his PR expertise and knowledge to his craft. Fully aware of the snobbery of the art establishment and the difficulties an unknown artist faces in getting their work recognised he has turned himself into a brand.
He’s called himself The Art Upstart. It’s as if he’s turned his passion into a viral marketing campaign: The Art Upstart has his own website (www.theartupstart.com), Facebook and Twitter pages, and beautifully reproduced book. For ages, he remained anonymous, not revealing his true identity. Said Hogan: ‘’The Art Upstart is an individual artist attempting to challenge the status quo in the art world today by letting ordinary people determine an artist’s popularity or success.’’ Also, he said: ‘’I did not want my professional associations to overshadow my quest to launch myself in the art world.
‘’I have a background in broadcasting and financial PR. However, this is very personal to me, and I wanted my art evaluated on its own merits.’’
Finally, when he’d got 10,000 intrigued online followers and with the exhibition firmly arranged (no mean feat in itself), he came clean. It’s clever. The Art Upstart: James Hogan is at the Gallery, 28 Cork Street, from June 7-June 12.
The story of the painter James Hogan is a unique one. Three years ago, as a successful public relations man in his late 50’s, he was seized by an overwhelming desire to paint.
“As compelling as the sexual drive of youth” he says. There was no warning. He woke up one morning to bright colours.
There was a rush of colour and God’s light. An eruption. My soul was lit up. “I didn’t care about rejection. I grabbed hold of the paint like a man possessed. It was the start of a whole new chapter in my life.’
He had painted eagerly up to the age of 13 when his father died of cancer in his 40’s followed a few years later by his mother. They were working-class Irish immigrants and devout Catholics. He and his siblings were devastated.
Now, with no formal art training, he equipped himself and began to paint again furiously in every spare moment that the day-job left him.
He was in love with paint. ‘Paint is very odd. God is in it somewhere. It’s hard to explain. He takes over sometimes, sometimes leaves you adrift.’ Though no longer a Catholic, he never lost faith in God and he never lacked faith in himself. And then he did an extraordinary thing. As an unknown, he put his paintings on the Internet, on a website intriguingly entitled the Art Upstart.
He kept blogging away about what he was painting and why, and about his efforts to set up a one man show. He says he soon had 10,000 followers online not to mention his Twitter following. ‘I need your help,’ he told them. ‘I’d like to put the power to make or break an artist in to the hands of the public. Lets stand the art establishment on its head.’
Finally, earlier this month, he rented a gallery in Cork Street, Mayfair, the heart of the art-dealing establishment. For a week he ‘came out’ on the net. The Art Upstart was revealed as James Hogan, formerly a top television producer at the BBC (Panorama, Election Nights, Question Time). His show seems to have sold well.
I applaud any painter for bypassing the exclusive, cliquey art establishment where the two-headed dog gates leading to fame and fortune for such artists as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
Why not consult the public instead? Because the public generally doesn’t ‘get it’. Hogan himself says ‘a lot of contemporary art is c**p – a sentiment with which many of us concur. In this lavishly illustrated book, you can judge for yourself what he has to say in painting and in words. It’s the sort of coffee-table book usually only produced for established names.
Hogan, a beginner, is doing it the other way round. No finicky brushwork, but the palette knife, applying strong colours in great stabs, piled on on another.
He also takes the bold step of telling us what they intend to convey. It is notoriously hard to do that in words about painting and sometimes he gets tied up in abstraction that sound rather like the critics ‘ higher bosh. But some powerfully felt canvases repay prolonged scrutiny – for example a series inspired by 9/11 and entitled Blood.
As an ex-newsman, he is stirred by current events. Recently he exhibited on the website a new work about the best of Michael Jackson.
If they ever appoint a painter Laureate as a companion to the poet Laureate, he would know how to set about it. I don’t know that I would, actually.