Jim Curran has been around on the British climbing scene for over forty years. Over that time he has sought, and succeeded, to express himself creatively through a broad range of work. As a cameraman he has filmed 15 mountain-based documentaries, ranging in subject from Everest to the remote Scottish islands of St Kilda and Hoy, via the Andes, Caucasus and Atlas mountains.
He also filmed, scripted and narrated the documentary, Rock Queen with Catherine Destivelle, the French climbing superstar, which won him an Emmy Award for outstanding electronic camerawork.
As an award-winning biographer, his work has covered similar ground. Trango, The Nameless Tower, K2 - Triumph and Tragedy, Suspended Sentences, and K2 - The Story of the Savage Mountain, are all important reads in the field of mountain literature. He has also written the authorised biography of Sir Chris Bonington: High Achiever - The Life and Climbs of Chris Bonington.
Yet, in later years, Jim Curran has returned to his early passion – painting – as his chosen means of expression. In typical form, this has resulted in a confident, expressive, varied and ever-growing body of work. His well-known oils of high mountains – Kongur, K2, Trango – have a great sense of ice and space, coming from the understanding that Curran has of these mountains as a climber as well as his perception of them as an artist. They are alive with the allure that hard mountains hold for mountaineers.
His series of studies of Hoy capture something different: the wild outer reaches of Britain’s amazing landmass, where the Atlantic, geology and rock climbing come together to produce the totemic expression of British adventure cragging. Another series takes a different line and observes the leaf-hidden hulks that are Southern Sandstone, a cosy starting place for many and a place to which Curran, much like he has done with his art, now returns to recapture fond early passions.
Through it all is a sense of development, of rejecting any sort of formula, that hints at a drive for self-expression, over any notions of success on a commercial level. Curran is no Sunday afternoon dilettante. There is a sense of journey through the work, and, like with all good art, there is as yet no sense of what the destination might be.
"Love the mountains. That was Robin Campbell’s famous dictum, and one I have tried to obey in 48 years of climbing, filming, writing and now painting. Painting was in fact my first love, until I discovered the world of documentary film making in the early 70’s. But I always knew I would return to my fine art origins, and now, for the last five years, I have done little else.
How to describe what I do? When I returned, with some trepidation, to face the first blank canvas, I decided to pay homage to those mountains that have given me the richest memories, and it was the peaks of the Karakorum that were the obvious choice. Using a combination of memories, observation, photographs and, I hope, inspiration. Big paintings of Trango Tower, Chogolatse and, inevitably, K2, provided a crash-course in rediscovering rusty skills. They formed the nucleus for my first exhibition at the Kendal Film Festival in 2002.
Two years later, the subject matter is more varied, with a concentrated series of paintings of The Old man of Hoy and the wonderful sandstone cliffs around Rackwick Bay. This culminated in a visit to the Orkneys specifically to draw and paint – although I continue to use photographs for information purposes. An exhibition at the Alpine Club, and the following year, Kendal again, seemed to me to show a definite advance.Since then the subject matter has grown smaller and the paintings have become bigger. Last year I became obsessed with the crags around Sella in Spain, as well as with the wonderfully sculpted terraces that surround them.
This year I have been painting the sandstone crags of my youth – Harrison’s and High Rocks. This resulted in a happy marriage with a newfound interest in watercolours. I’m currently working on a large oil painting (12ft by 4ft), in three pieces, of High Rocks with Coronation Crack and Krait Arête dominating. This painting is probably a commercial folly (any offers?) but is painted on a scale where the structure and the texture of the rock, although not (obviously) life-sized, is large enough to have a similar physical impact on the viewer. It fills the field of vision.
At the time of writing I am fully absorbed in what I hope will be a new series of sandstone paintings in oils. After this – well who knows? I will always love the mountains, both in their largest and smallest manifestations. I don’t expect to run out of ideas any time soon. Strangely enough, however, I haven’t really decided how to tackle the crags that are on my own doorstep.
Stanage and the Peak District await."