James Hart Dyke Painter - London, UK

The more British Artists I interview the more often HRH The Prince of Wales name keeps coming up.  Can you discuss the opportunities of this connection has been to your artistic career?

 HRH The Prince of Wales has been a great supporter of the Arts. He has set up his own art school, The Prince’s Drawing Studio, in Shoreditch, London. He carries on a tradition of inviting an artist to accompany him on his foreign royal tours. I have had the amazing privilege of travelling with him on four royal tours; East Asia (1998), Middle East (1999), Africa (2007) and to the Gulf States (2008). Apart from the extraordinary personal journey of being on the inside of a royal tour, which is deeply impressive, I can say the experience changed my artistic life.

Until my first royal tour in1998 to East Asia I had only painted UK landscapes. As we flew from Nepal to Bhutan I could see Mount Everest pluming in the distance. It totally mesmerised me and I knew I had to travel there to experience and paint the extraordinary and dramatic scenery. I had always had an adventurous spirit and for some time had been searching for ways of combining it with my painting. The following year I trekked up to Everest with my paints. The drama of the mountain landscapes and the physicality of the trip combined with painting is what I had been looking for and is it what I am still engaged with today.

After reading a number of books based on mountains I slowly discovered that many of the first climbers where artists. The relationship between artists and climbers was a consequence growth of the Romantic Movement in the UK and included the writings of William Wordsworth and John Ruskin. In some ways it related to the work of John Constable, who has been an influence on me since the age of eight.

You have retraced Edward Whymper’s steps across the alps, please discuss this using your own work.

 Edward Whymper was a pioneering Alpine climber and artist. In 1865 he was the first to climb the Matterhorn, although four of his climbing party died during the descend, causing a media storm throughout Europe.  Originally, he had gone to the Alps to make illustrations for the growing market in mountains scenes resulting from the Romantic Movement.

Glacier Tacul from the Mer de Glace, oil on acrylic on board 30x42cm

Glacier du Tacul, seen from the Mer Glace, Oil on acrylic, on board, 30 x 75 cm

In 2016 it was suggested to me by my dealer and a client of mine, who is an experienced climber, that I should retrace, as far as was possible, Whymper’s famous 1865 climbing expedition across the Alps. I would make studies on the journey and then prepare larger paintings back in London for an exhibition with my London dealers, John Mitchell Fine Paintings, who specialise in Alpine paintings. My client would act as the mountain guide so that I could traverse glaciers and climb where necessary.

James Hart Dyke



I designed a lightweight water-based painting set so that I could make studies on the journey. I used my phone to take photographs.

As an artist I am partly interested in rendering a ‘realistic scene’ however I am just as much involved with making a ‘nice mess’ with paint. Richard Diebenkorn is a strong influence on me. The studies on site (see below) are small, approximately 15x20cm, and because of the time constrains and uncomfortable conditions they tend to be robust and spontaneous. I continually look at the little ‘plein air’ studies of John Constable.


Back in the studio I use the studies and photographs to make the larger paintings (see below). Studio work is more involved with the quality of paint work and textures across the canvas, although the painting still maintains a realistic scene. As the painting becomes bigger, I have to work more and more on the abstract qualities of the painting.


You have an Exhibition PATAGONIA opening in the Autumn of 2018 discuss.

As with many of my projects, the Patagonia project developed from a set of circumstances coming together. I had been commissioned to make a portrait of a family in Santiago, Chile and it had crossed my mind that while there I should try to paint in the Andes. The client who had guided me across the Alps heard about my portrait commission and coincidentally was planning a business trip to Chile. He suggested we go together with his mountain guide to climb in Patagonia. He and his guide would attempt some serious climbs and I could ‘tag’ on the back, climbing as far as I could and paint when possible. Hence was born the Patagonia project.

As I read about Patagonia it seemed to me a relatively uncharted part of the world. There are massive areas of untouched wildness which I am greatly attracted to. Pure landscape is for me something very powerful and spiritual. Going with the climbers would allow me to access places I couldn’t get to by myself.

Patagonia expedition

I took a similar painting set with me as with The Whymper project, although this time I added some pastels, which I had been experimenting with in the studio in preparation for the trip.

At the moment I’m working from my studies made in situ and photos, generating experimental paintings on boards about 30x40cm. I’m always trying to push the work ‘forward’, experimenting with different ways of making the paintings. I wish I had some formula, I don’t, I’m continually stumbling along although my objective for this exhibition is to make some large work, maybe 2x3m or larger if I can get them into the gallery.

Patagonia painting

Not only have you been climbing the alps but for five years you were a member of the Army Reserves – skydiving. Discuss the art work this gave you.

 As one gets a little older, things done in the past make more sense. I now understand that my time as a skydiver and as an army reserve were fuelled by a desire to experience and understand ‘landscape.’

Jumping from a plane and free falling for a minute, passing through or down the side of clouds, is a surreal feel and offers a unique way of experiencing landscape. I always think of John Constable who trained as a miller. In doing so he became very knowledgeable about cloud formations which he painted with authority. In the same way I had to read the sky for skydiving and I hope it has given me a little more understanding when I come to painting a sky. Obviously skydiving offers a more adrenaline rich experience, something I enjoy and which touches on the emotions surrounding the mystery of life and mortality.

I’ve always felt skydiving to be a bit like painting. This might sound slightly odd however skydiving involves being strong, overcoming all the emotions associated with jumping from a plane, and at the same time it is quite a subtle and delicate sport. Only small body movements are required to change the direction of travel across the sky when freefalling. In a way it is the same in painting. On one level one has be bold and strong, making broad brush marks, and yet one also has to be sensitive and delicate, making very fine and precise marks. The tension between the two acts generates something special in a painting.

Skydiving and the military have been formative in my understanding of landscape and my relationship with it, one not just of beauty and the sublime but one of fear and physical hardship.

In 2009 it was the centenary year of M16.  You were invited to go behind the doors.  Explain this experience and the strict conditions attached to this invitation.  Discuss this using 2 or 3 of your works.

To work on the project with MI6 I had to be thoroughly vetted and had to sign the Official Secrets Act. For over a year I worked in secret on the drawings and paintings of MI6 which was an interesting experience. In doing so I was able to understand better a little of what it is like working for the organisation. It is an odd experience sitting with close friends, unable to discuss what I was doing. For many who work for MI6 this is everyday life. The experience informed some of my work. I became super sensitised to the environment about me; catching the eye of someone watching me in the street became a heightened experience (see painting below) or I would become very weary of a person being overfriendly in a café.


The project generated a vary of work. Initially I made simple scratchy drawings (see below) in the ‘offices’ of MI6.  It was really empowering to be using the act of drawing from life to engage with a world where the use of a camera was impossible. It is important to say that if anything sensitive was going to be discussed I would be asked to leave the room.

m16 1

The work slowly developed into more unusual paintings that I thought were appropriate to depict what can be a very surreal world. The ‘Toy Duck’ painting (below) shows an everyday object which when viewed in the context of MI6 takes on a different and powerful character. The white circles in the background were my only reference in the project to the James Bond films, which are set in a fictitious interpretation of the world of MI6. White circles are used in the graphics for some of the James Bond films. The green dot references the fact that the head of MI6 or ‘C’ uses ‘green ink’ when writing communications within the organisation.

toy duck

Toy Duck, oil on canvas, 45 x 45 cm

The most significant painting I made for the MI6 project was ‘Waiting in the hotel room’ (see below). This seemed to resonant with everyone in MI6 and was used in much of the publicity during the public exhibition. John Scarlett, former head of MI6, is reported by the International Herald Tribune (22.2.11) to have said ‘Almost everyone in the service, from me onwards have recognised that scene and experienced the tension it conveys.’

m16 #4

After this you were to receive the commission from the Bond, Producers.  Discuss this commission making 50 years and 6 “James Bonds”.

The publicity surrounding the project with MI6 project brought me to the attention of the producers of the James Bond films, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. They invited me into their offices where we discussed the MI6 paintings, which are among the few existing images of real life in the British Secret Intelligence Service.

I had always loved the old James Bond posters which were hand painted. They have a wonderful mix of graphics combined with expressive painting. I came up with a design for a 50th anniversary poster based on monochromatic hand painted portraits of the six Bonds which the producers liked and which were reproduced as the official 50th James Bond Anniversary silkscreen prints. 

James Bond in red

james bonds

On a much quieter frame explain your involvement in Country Houses.  Discuss this in relations to the natural light and its effect on buildings.

At my Degree show at the Royal College of Art, where I studied architecture, I gained several commissions to paint country houses. Although I had passionately painted since the age of eight I had never had the courage to become a professional painter. The country house painting commissions where a natural bridge between architecture and painting. In a short period of time the number of commissions grew to such an extent that I could make a living from it and in 1998 I was approached by Sotheby’s to participate in their historical exhibition ‘The Artist and The Country House from the Fifteenth Century to the Present Day’. These country house paintings were the beginning of my career as a professional artist and remain an important part of my passion for painting landscapes.


Highgrove, Thyme Walk, oil on canvas,30 x 45 cm

You paint from all angles and many countries.  Expand on two of your favourite locations.

My painting is firmly rooted in a love of the UK landscape although for some time my work has been focused on mountains in other countries. The Alps are very significant for me, not just for the beautiful mountain landscapes, but it is where aesthetics and physical endeavour in the landscape were unified by the early artists who became climbers as a result of the Romantic Movement.

Can you explain the difference of a commissioned portrait e.g. Mr Terry Slattery and Girl on Green?

Mr Slattery

Mr Terry Slattery, Oil on canvas, commissioned by the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland

Commissioned portraits are done for a client and I try my best to make a kind of painting appropriate for that person or organisation. For non-commissioned paintings I feel free to indulge myself in my own interests. In the case of ‘girl on green’ it was a mixing of classical portrait painting with some graphics inspired by the surroundings of the little girl’s home in Kibera, Kenya.

girl on green

Girl in Green, Oil on canvas, 45 x45cm

You continue with such a high profile while quietly working to help young school children and art students.  Discuss the act of giving both physically and financially.

Certainly, when I was at school ‘Art’ was not considered a serious subject. To some extent I think this is still the case in the UK and the pressures of academic achievement today in the more traditional subjects has added to the pressure on Art related subjects. I am very keen to support and promote young artists. There is a massive Arts Industry in the UK, especially London, and although it is difficult as a career if one can make it work it is a wonderful way of life. On a different level I believe strongly that as a community we have a moral obligation to make beautiful places to live and work, and to achieve this we must promote education in the ‘Arts.’

Contact details

James Hart Dyke



James Hart Dyke, London, UK

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, March 2018