Crossing to the limelight

• Artist James Cross. Photo by David Bell

EIGHT years after becoming an artist, James Cross is preparing to display his works to the public for the first time.

“I started doing art when I was up in Darwin in palliative care,” he says.

Years before when he was building houses for poor communities overseas, he never imagined he’d be an artist.

But while in a palliative ward in Darwin, with a life-threatening lung infection and his body rejecting stem cells from an earlier operation, he started drawing recurring, parallel lines while weathering the effects of the notoriously powerful painkiller Fentanyl.

“They give it to you when you don’t expect to live,” Cross says.


“On those very heavy drugs…basically I would see those artworks in my sleep and wake up and create them.”

He now finds it hard to relate to those early works, saying his style has evolved to include other philosophies.

“I can’t imagine how to do that art or what it means.”

After he survived he started exploring his family’s Aboriginal heritage, unknown to them for many years due to the broken connections caused by the Stolen Generation.

He spoke with Aboriginal lore men about philosophy, art and spirituality, discovering that the lines he’d drawn in hospital echoed the line-styles they used in their artwork.

What he’d learned started to influence his artwork, and he also began to incorporate his own Catholic background and elements of Buddhism.

These days, busy raising his kids and sometimes fatigued from chemo, art is still his main outlet.

Sometimes his process is meditative, and drawing the lines for him was like the way Buddhist monks spend many quiet hours raking patterns into sand in a zen garden, only for their painstaking work to be smoothed over afterwards.

Sometimes they’re deeply spiritual and personal pieces, and other times they’re influenced by what’s going on around him: He was recently watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearings in the US – the investigation into an accusation of sexual assault by the supreme court nominee.

Frustrated by the injustice and angered by how the victim was being treated, Cross took a pen and manifested his feelings on paper, turning them into abstract lines representing borders that were crossed and safe spaces that had been intruded on.


He’s now one of 10 artists on show in an exhibition by Identitywa, an agency that supports people with disabilities and their families.

The organisation aims to help people with a disability “live the life they choose”, and this exhibition is intended to show off the creative side of the people they work with.

The exhibition is November 3 and 4 at Identitywa, 61 Fitzgerald Street Northbridge, from 10am to 3pm.

by David Bell

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