James Dignan

James has created an artwork in response to my poem, You can’t take a duck home. The title of this poem was abducted from Peter Olds’ book,  Poetry reading at Kaka Point.  Although sharing a title, my poem went ‘off ‘ in a completely different direction to Peter’ s poem.  I didn’t intend to steal it, but those 6 words conjured up an immediate story for me and before I knew it I had a poem and I couldn’t put it back. I think James’ painting is terrific – kind of a tribute and thanks to Peter Olds, on my behalf!

Introducing James Dignan


I describe myself as a jack-of-all-creative-trades and master of none.

Other than painting, I write regular art reviews for the “Otago Daily Times” as well as freelance articles for a variety of places, most notably “Landfall”. I also compile the ODT’s daily quiz. My writing extends to poetry and the occasional short story, and at one time I used to write comedy sketches and even a play. Somewhere in the bottom of a cupboard there are also the first couple of chapters of an unpublished novel.

Art/Music studio

Art/Music studio

Then there’s music – as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, I have been seen performing at various venues around Dunedin and further afield, and have released two albums – one solo, and one with my former band “The Moomins”, back in the dim recesses of Dunedin Past. I am slowly but surely working on another album which may or may not see the light of day in the next few months. I also present a fortnightly radio show on the student radio station, Radio One (of which I am the longest-serving announcer). My art studio is also my music studio – the combined space was at one time the spare room. Now it’s overwhelmed with paints, guitar leads, and books.

LIfe’s a long song

Born in England to an English mother and a New Zealand father, I have lived in Otago since the 1970s, and in Dunedin since I began studying at the University of Otago in the 1980s (I eventually completed an MSc in psychology in the late 1990s, with a specialist area of visual perception). I am an expert in – of all things – flags, and am occasionally called on by the media on those odd occasions when the subject of vexillology (the study of flags) rears its head in the news.



My favourite art – as in music and film – is wide-ranging and eclectic, but in all three fields I am drawn to those moments where there is more happening than is directly apparent, where the presented scene is quiet, but with the inference that more is going on beyond the edges of the image or frame. In film, this includes the unsettling worlds of David Lynch, for example, and in music the seemingly static but ever-shifting soundscapes of Brian Eno. In art, it is people such as Giorgio de Chirico and late 19th and early 20th century artists from the symbolists to the expressionists whose work particularly appeals.

Forest Path

Forest Path

Despite this, the most direct influence on the style of my own work is possibly Andy Warhol. My method of creating paintings, which involves taking or finding photographs and other images, manipulating them via computer software, and then projecting the altered images and painting the result, often leaves the images with a heavily screen-printed appearance, even though I use brush and thick, opaque acrylic paint. I particularly like painting townscapes, which seem to respond well to this approach, but also enjoy portraiture and landscape work.

Madonna of the Gardens

Madonna of the Gardens

Not surprisingly, given my tastes in art, music, and film, my favourite places are often those which are half-glimpsed transition spaces, the havens of odd calm within the bustle of the city which are en route between points A and B for most people but which are rarely examined as points of interest in themselves. I also love the fact that Dunedin has such a wealth of different types of location close to the city: quiet beaches, run-down suburbia, bush walks, derelict industrial areas, hilltop vistas, such a mix, all available for inspiration at a moment’s notice. It is not always the beautiful which inspires the greatest art, but if it is natural beauty you want, the city has that too.

Child in Blue Hood

Child in Blue Hood

Currently, I am not working towards a new exhibition though I’m gently being goaded in that direction and am beginning to think that it might be a good project for next year. I also have to reload my website, which should be (but currently is not) at http://www.grutness.co.nz. Hopefully that will also occur in the next couple of months.

James exhibited his work in the first Poems in the Waiting Room exhibition, When North meets South.   If you’d like to read my interview with James for that blog, have a look here.


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