We started talking about writing first. In a Brisbane cafe. Then about the belonging project I’m working on, architecture, urban planning and how the three are linked often through art.

James politely said he didn’t want me to record him and we digressed into social media: “People are just giving away their rights to privacy. I don’t think they even realize it.”  I started taking notes at one point where it felt natural.

James is an amazing artist. He showed me photos of his large scale paintings stacked up in his apartment. He  must have devoted years to his art yet he’s also experienced in urban planning, architecture, and architectural philosophy. Dark sunglasses are perched on top of his shaved head.

“Public art is about the individual and the community. We need more public art.”

“It’s the one grey area — a very very grey area — in urban planning that hasn’t received much attention. Most developers aren’t interested. Councils don’t see the importance of it.”

“It’s thought of as superfluous. And if it’s considered superfluous and done all willy-nilly, with no forethought, it will be superfluous. Everyone has to be involved. It needs to be thought through.”

“Public art definitely gives a sense of belonging. And even if people don’t want to belong, like a lot of artists, or don’t intend to belong to larger society as you mentioned earlier, public art can inadvertently have the effect of creating belonging.”

We talk more as he sips his black coffee and he shows me his design and art portfolio. Then a photo of a larger piece, black and white, that he painted on one of the few available public art walls in Brisbane. He mentions hearing that artists are leaving Brisbane because there are few venues for their work — artists need somewhere to practise large scale paintings and brick walls are ideal.

“I like to keep a low profile. It’s not about me, it’s not about my ego, it’s about the end result. I respect people who do good work and keep their ego out of it. I prefer collaboration. I want to work with other people I respect to change the way things are. It’s just not easy to find those people.”

“Yes, it’s definitely about a sense of belonging.”

(Brisbane, March 2016)