James Willebrant was born in Shanghai, China in 1950.
When he was a young boy he lived in Indonesia and then the Netherlands from 1951 to 1958, before arriving in Australia in 1958 and settling in Sydney.
During his secondary school years he attended North Sydney Boys High from 1963 to 1967. After graduating from school, Willebrant studied at East Sydney Technical School at the National Art School in Sydney from 1968 to 1972, graduating with a Diploma of Painting.
Whilst at the National Art School he won the school’s Painting Prize in 1970 and 1972, and in 1972 he was also awarded the Holdsworth Gallery Painting Prize.
After graduating from art school, Willebrant was an Art Teacher at Chiron Collect in Birchgrove, Sydney from 1973 to 1976.
In 1973 he was encouraged by fellow artist and mentor Charles Blackman to mount his first exhibition at Philip Bacon Galleries in Brisbane. The exhibition was enthusiastically received and so began Willebrant’s successful career as a professional painter, which has spanned 36 years and over 70 exhibitions throughout Australia and overseas, with a total of over 44 shows up till 2015.
In the mid 1970’s Willebrant became part of an exciting evolution in the Australian art scene, showing his work at The Australian Galleries in Melbourne and with Kym Bonython Gallery in Sydney. These galleries in particular were at the forefront of the revolution that supported a new generation of Australian artists and captured the imagination of the public. Willebrant and contemporaries like Brett Whiteley, Tim Storrier, John Coburn, Martin Sharpe and John Firth-Smith continued to redefine, explore and celebrate the Australian experience as their precursors such as Streeton, Dobell, Tucker, Drysdale and Nolan had done.
A modernist style figurative artist who paints the Australian landscape and celebrates our popular culture, James Willebrant’s style has been variously described as Surreal, Naïve, Pop-Art and even Existentialist, none of which adequately define his unique work.
Willebrant shows Australians as “everyman” and “everywoman” figures, often within brightly lit landscapes. Figures are portrayed in day to day moments, engaging in unique Australian experiences, many of which are leisure activities. The locations are often outdoors set under bright panoramic skies, with the paintings often large scale and characterised by the portrayal of space and beautiful, clear light.
Willebrant says of his work: “With my sharply defined style I aim to not only capture something about the Australian experience of ‘landscape’ but to also explore how our intense Antipodean light illuminates and dominates that whole experience”.
After being based in Sydney for many years, in 1986 Willebrant moved from Balmain to the Blue Mountains, seeking out new horizons and inspirations. The physical beauty and at times spiritually challenging atmosphere of the mountains has seen his work expand both thematically and stylistically over the past 28 years.
Works by James Willebrant are held in several Australian and international art collections, including: National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Queensland Art Gallery, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, New England Regional art Gallery, Horsham Regional Gallery, Armidale Regional Gallery, Parliament House Collection, University of Western Australia, University of Sydney, Artbank, the Australian-Japan Foundation, Australian Embassy in Tokyo, Australia-Japan Trade Commission, plus a number of corporate collections, such as: National Bank of Australia, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac Bank, Deutsche Bank Australia, Tokyo National Bank, Australian Stock Exchange, Telstra, Qantas, BHP, Sydney Theatre Company, and the Elizabeth Theatre Trust in Sydney.