Meet the Southsea artist using his horrific trauma to heal others at Hotwalls Studios workshop

James Mouland – a 46-year-old artist from Southsea – is sharing his skill for turning past horrors in his life into today’s beauty.

Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 1:32 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 1:32 pm
James Mouland outside his Studio 13 Hotwalls, in Old Portsmouth. Picture: Andy Hornby

James runs workshops and art classes from the cobbled streets of Old Portsmouth.

He is based in studio 13 at Hotwalls Studios, overlooking the Solent and just below the historic Point Battery and Barracks.

The impressive location from which James also sells prints, cards and silks, adorned with the elaborate designs of paper marbling and Turkish ebru, is evocative of the remarkable story which led him there.

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James and Tim during their time in East Germany. Credit: James Mouland

After a horrific car crash in 1998 – from which he was the only survivor – James has found solace and peace through the art of ebru – a unique form of water painting which dates back hundreds of years.

Before settling in Southsea, he and his Turkish wife Baha, with their two children Baris, 11, and Melodi, seven, spent five years living in Istanbul. It was there that she introduced James to the art.

‘She knew I was going to lose my mind if I didn’t have something to focus on,’ says James.

Pictured: James Mouland creating his artwork at his Studio 13 Hotwalls, in Old Portsmouth. Picture: Andy Hornby

James and Bahar, have been practising ebru for the past 12 years, opening the James Mouland Ebru Studio in 2016.

‘It’s such a mesmerising process, you can’t break away,’ says James as he drags the colours across the water forming a delicate marbled design.

James met Bahar in 2005 – at a popular salsa bar in Southsea known as Havana – when she was working for IBM in HR.

During their time in Istanbul, Bahar took James to see a Turkish e bru master, Kubilay Dincer, who taught him the ancient art as a birthday present.

It would prove to be one of the most influential gifts he would ever receiv e.

‘After that he couldn’t get rid of me, I was hooked on it,’ says James .

‘Over a five- year period it was like a master/ apprentice kind of thing.

‘I was paying at first but once I’d kind of mastered it I had a studio round the corner and I would go and see him for tips and tricks, ’ James explains.

‘We became friends,’ he adds.

One a visit to Southsea, after James and Bahar had returned to Portsmouth and the Hotwalls Studios were still being renovated, Kubilay encouraged James to use one of the spaces for his own art.

‘He’s really proud that he trained me, and now I’m working out here,’ James says.

Born in 1975, James grew up in Portchester with his sisters Tina and Jo and parents Fran and Ray.

‘When I left school, I worked for my dad as a plumber,’ says James.

James travelled to Germany shortly after to help keep his father’s business afloat, sending money back to England.

‘Back in the early ’90s , there was a really bad recession. My dad almost lost his business, but there was work in East Germany at the time. I went out there with my sister's fiance, Tim. We were out there for about a year,’ says James.

After travelling through south- east Asia and Australia as his parents paid back the money he had lent them, James returned to the UK and went into partnership with his brother-in-law-to-be, Tim Collins, in the construction industry.

‘I was living above a surf shop in Bognor Regis at the time.

‘We needed someone to come and work with us and one of the kids I knew from the shop was a big strapping lad. I phoned up to arrange it and left a message with his mum,’ says James.

‘I got a phone call about five minutes later, it was this young lad Craig. He said, “ I may be 13, but I’m much stronger and more reliable than my brother, you want to take me, forget about him”, he added.

James admired the ‘cheek and determination’ of 13-year-old Craig Curtis, they agreed and picked him up the following day where he proved himself to be hard-working and enthusiastic, however, the morning after he didn’t turn up.

‘His mum phoned up and said, “it's my fault Craig never made it this morning. He was so tired from the day before I couldn’t bear to wake him up. Ca n you give him another go?”’ says James.

James agreed and the pair met Tim the next day at a service station at Fontwell, beginning their journey to Croydon, where they were working at the time, joining the A29 to Slindon.

James recalls: ‘Sixty seconds after leaving the roundabout a car hit us head on.

‘It was a Range Rover, we were in an old Peugeot. It hit us head on and killed Tim instantly. I was injured. So the fire brigade had to come and pull me out. Craig was alive but so badly injured that he was on life support for 24 hours,’ James explains.

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‘The last thing I remember is the coffee machine in the garage had broken, if that coffee machine had worked, those two minutes would have made the difference,’ he says.

James was 23 at the time of the crash in which he lost his business partner and best friend Tim and that left him with chronic head, neck, back and shoulder pain. Not surprisingly the trauma of the incident still haunts him.

‘I’d known him 10 years. He was very much a big brother figure, we were very close,’ says James.

James’ grieving process was exacerbated by a lengthy insurance claim, during which he ‘basically didn’t sleep’ for five-and-a-half years as he was forced to ‘justify’ his injuries, constantly reliving the trauma of the crash.

‘You don't actually get over it. What you do is you adapt. You live with it.

‘A day doesn't go by where I'm not still connected to that moment, but I found that from doing this [Ebru], there was relief from thinking about it,’ he adds.

Since discovering the art James has done commissions for brands such as Estee Lauder, and taught classes to Veterans Outreach Support and at Making Space in Havant, to people with learning disabilities.

James recalls the story of one visitor he encouraged to try e bru for about 10 minutes.

‘His friend came back and said “ I’ve known him years and never known him to not stammer. We have just gone to get a coffee and he’s stopped” ,’ he says.

‘Serendipity’ is a word James often uses to describe the paths in his life which have brought him to this moment.

‘I’ve now got a skill where not only am I teaching arts and crafts, but I’m also teaching something that's actually really good for people's wellbeing’.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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