Born in Brightlingsea, a coastal town in Essex, Great Britain, James Dodds trained as a shipwright before turning to art and studying at the Royal College of Art in London, among other schools. His work has been exhibited throughout England and in Germany, Greece, Russia, and the United States as well, including at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. In 2001 Dodds was the subject of a major traveling retrospective as well as a short documentary film, and in 2007 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex. In his last year of art school, Dodds founded Jardine Press, which has published over 30 editions of poetry and other writings, some with his illustrations. Dodds’s work is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British National Maritime Museum, and many other institutions. He is represented by Messum’s in London, and in the United States by the Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland. Dodds also shows his prints at the Handmade Papers Gallery in Brooklin.
Dodds has lived all his life in communities along the river Colne in Essex. “It is very important to me to have roots in the area that I work in,” he states. He matured as an artist the moment he combined his training in traditional wooden boat building with the practice of painting, which happened in 2000. That year he had the opportunity to display a large canvas and, grappling with the challenge, ended up painting a boat from memory.
Nowadays, Dodds visits local boat builders to create photographs and sketches that serve as preparatory material for his paintings. His subjects include newly built vessels, boats that underwent repairs, and shipwrecks, all the while celebrating the history and craftsmanship of his former occupation. While these images accurately describe the kinds of boats built along the coast of Britain, they do not leave the uninitiated viewer behind. Architectural monumentality, descriptive detail, and interesting color choices transform Dodds’s paintings into icons of the sea. In Orcadian Yole, Stern the boat’s warm, muted colors against a uniform black background, as well as extreme foreshortening, suggest the boat is emerging from deep pictorial space. Although manmade, the vessel’s organic, wooden shape also seems natural. “I celebrate the physicality of things,” Dodds explains. In a way, even as a painter he is still building boats.
His woodcuts and linocuts explore a wider range of marine subjects, including panoramas of fishing villages and illustrations of nautical tales, in complex compositions. Additionally, Dodds has started carving wooden reliefs of boats this year. The artist clearly lives and breathes boats and everything related to them, and infuses his artwork with his lifelong passion. In Dodds’s own words, “I believe art should engage the head, heart, and hand.”