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TBI QnA: Jimmy James Kouratoras

15 Mar 2017
Contemporary Maori artist Jimmy James Kouratoras talks to The Big Idea ahead of his solo exhibition The Classics, featuring portraits of film-making legends.

Contemporary New Zealand artist Jimmy James Kouratoras is of Maori and Greek heritage. He talks to The Big Idea ahead of his solo show, The Classics, featuring portraits of Hollywood silver screen legends, alongside play readings of When The Party's Over by American playwright Glory Kadigan. 

Tell us a bit about your background 

Tēnā koutou katoa
Ko Puke o Tahinga te Maunga
Ko Waikato te Awa
Ko Tainui te Iwi
Ko Ngati Tiipa te Hapu
Ko Te Kotahitanga te Marae
Ko Jimmy James Kouratoras ahau

I grew up in Onehunga in the 70s to a Greek dad and a Māori mum. Both cultures were equally important, so while I had the opportunity to go marae hopping in the Waikato and learning about raranga (weaving) with my Nan, I also had the chance as a nine-year-old to travel alone to Greece to spend a year with my family.

How did you get into films and television?

I've always loved knocking around with a bit of paint and a close friend of mine, who was a runner at the time, suggested I should try and get into set finishing. I tried it, loved it and stayed there for almost twenty years. 

What was one of your favourite jobs?

In 2005 I was working on this Japanese sci-fi film about monsters. It was shot in the South Island around Mount Hutt and the location was stunning. As I was working closely with the Japanese art department everything was always in translation, and that was great fun too.

After 22 years as a scenic working on films and television, what made you decide to leave the regular pay packet and focus on your own work?

The industry taught me a lot about production, art direction and collaborating to get the job done; but at the end of the day, it was time to start designing my own future. Now my priority is to create and reflect stories that are true to my vision and who I am.

Over the last five years how have you found being a full-time painter and father of three kids

Challenging! It's a 24/7 job with children but it's also an opportunity to show them that my motivation to work as a fulltime artist comes from the desire to create, and that fulfills me. My children are always part of me so where I go, they roll with me - we're in it together.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming exhibition The Classics: Portraits of an Era

My latest solo exhibition is about the stars from the classic movies. I have memories of watching those films on telly and it's those memories, and a tribute to my connection with the film industry that has inspired me. The classics were an era impossible to ignore and I recapture that sense of timelessness in this series.

You’ve also invited American playwright Glory Kadigan to share your space with a reading of her new play 'When the Party's Over'. What kick-started this collaboration?

Glory Kadigan is an exciting American female playwright whose work is well known in the USA. I thought it was a great opportunity to work with her, and Dione Joseph (who's directing the reading) to add another layer to the exhibition to combine elements of visual and drama.

The exhibition and the play reading both are quintessentially American. Is that just pure coincidence?

I believe it's important that we start having conversation about what's happening in America, but do so in a way that encourages the flow of art in different directions. It was entirely chance that the play that was picked focused on a Broadway actress, but sometimes things are just meant to fall into place.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

Hush and Haroshi are two street artists I've been looking at on Pinterest. Their work reminds me of where things need to go in terms of being loose with the can or the brush marks, and simultaneously, being able to control that freedom in a non contrived way. 

Equally my children have always been a big motivation, and right now I'm so inspired by my ten year old boy whose eagerness to cook and challenge his sisters to a MasterChef competition has resulted in him making pizza (including the dough and sauce) for dinner! I'm so proud of him. 

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Get a deep tissue massage, it works every time. If you can get a Mirimiri, even better.

What’s your big idea for 2017?

I've been invited by the kaumatua to paint under the maihi at my marae, Te Kotahitanga. I'm re-creating the creation story of how light and life was brought into the world through the separation of Papatuanuku and Ranginui. It's going to be our very own Sistine Chapel.


The Classics runs from 17-19 March in The Sapphire Room at Ponsonby Central, in Auckland.