Mountain Painter



Well known charismatic climber, writer/filmmaker and painter Jim Curran tells Living Art why the mountains are his muse.

After a chequered career filming on fifteen Himalayan expeditions and various mountaineering projects in Britain, the Alps, Andes and Caucuses, I have reverted to my roots. I was trained in Fine Art and for many years taught in the Faculty of Art and Design at the University of the West of England, so the transition from film to canvas wasn't as suprising as many people have assumed.
My paintings are quite simply to do with a love of mountain landscape, ranging from Everest, K2 and Mount Kenya to the tiny sandstone outcrops of South East England.
Collecting the images varies from drawing on the spot, still (and occasionally moving) photographic images and, more recently, quite elaborate watercolour studies that are either ends in themselves or developed into larger finished studio works.

Two contrasting examples are fairly typical. On Everest in 1988 I was filming on the North East Ridge. Back at Base Camp I had a memory of a photograph taken by George Mallory from an unusual point on a small peak on the west of the Rongbuk Glacier. From here Everest is revealed in true proportions with the great sweep of the glacier zigzagging velour. The photograph Mallory took is far more impressive than the normal foreshortened view from Base Camp and one afternoon I walked up to a place that must have been somewhere near to the famous viewpoint.
It was a cold afternoon with Everest appearing through the fleeting clouds with its great summit plume blowing away into Tibet. All I managed was a small sketch and a few snaps. But the memory remained and fourteen years later I painted a large canvas based on this.
In total contrast I have recently revisited my climbing roots at Harrison's Rocks near Tunbridge Wells. At art college these rocks were purely for climbing and I had no thought of painting (though now I am puzzled as to why). The sandstone formations, with their bulging overhangs and curious wind eroded pockets with old trees intertwined into the rock itself, seem to me to be a painter's paradise. Despite their small scale I have found, in miniatures, similar monumental qualities that I have found on Everest.
At present I have produced some fifteen watercolours of the rocks but in the near future I want to do some really large (3m x 1.5m) oil paintings. I suppose the excitement I feel for these projects is exactly the same, whatever the scale, and now that my climbing and filming days are almost (but not quite) over, my love of painting has grown to dominate my life. I'm sure it always will.

Jim lives in Sheffield where his painting is constantly interrupted by the attractions of the Peak District in general, and the attractions of climbing on gritstone outcrops in particular.