JAMES Owen Thomas has come a long way in the short time since enrolling as a student at Bradford School of Art.

There, he captured the imagination of staff and fellow students by creating striking pieces of art out of recycled material, predominantly scratch cards.

“I try to create a work of art from what would otherwise have been thrown away,” he says. “I like to see how sections of printed words, numbers and patterns can blend into one of my mosaic-style scenes.”

In the four years following his final show in Bradford - where he gained a Level 3 Art & Design qualification - James, who has autism, has worked hard producing collages that have hit headlines across the country.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: James with one of his COP26 artworksJames with one of his COP26 artworks

“I already had my own style when I started the two-year course, preferring to use all kinds of recycled materials in my artwork,” he says. “I became known for using discarded National Lottery scratch cards.”

James has exhibited widely and was last year awarded the role of artist in residence at Fishpond Wood in Bewerley near his home town of Pateley Bridge, where, last September, he was filmed for BBC’s Gardeners’ World, describing how he incorporates environmental awareness into his work.

James has donated some of his eye-catching artworks to help raise £20,000 for the charity Caudwell Children which supported him as he was growing up. And in 2021 he had the honour of being selected from hundreds of people across the UK to become one of 26 green ambassadors at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow.

Now James has opened his own gallery in Pateley Bridge. “It means a lot to me having my own gallery space just a short walk from home. As this is a close-knit community many people have known me since I was 11 when I joined the local high school,” he says.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: James Owen Thomas's gallery in Pateley BridgeJames Owen Thomas's gallery in Pateley Bridge

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Inside the galleryInside the gallery

“I have enough space to showcase other artists’ work. I hope to regularly circulate exhibitions to increase awareness of the gallery and let visitors feel inspired by all kinds of creativity,” he says.

Since the gallery, called JOT's, opened in December James has been pleased to read many favourable comments in the visitors’ book: ‘beautiful artworks…really inspiring’, ‘lovely, lovely work! I love the use of recycled material,’ ‘absolutely

“Everyone is wishing me well and I always enjoy talking about my art - I have done ever since I was 15 and had my first exhibition with the National Trust,” says James.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: James with Mog the cat in his galleryJames with Mog the cat in his gallery

There is also a book planned about his life and art, involving a London publishing house.

James’s training at Bradford School of Art developed his confidence to speak at different events. “My time there also helped me to discover more techniques with photography and I especially enjoyed working in the darkroom and also experimenting with printmaking - I’m still in touch with tutors from the college,” he says.

During winter James worked from home on his artwork, then cut and prepared materials at the gallery.

“Having the gallery gives me an ideal opportunity to demonstrate my collage technique to visitors,” he says. “It is good to meet people from all different areas. I’ve already met American and Chinese tourists, as well as day-trippers from Lancashire and different parts of Yorkshire.

“I was pleased to show representatives from The Tree Council my gallery when they recently visited the north. They were very impressed.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: There are many colourful works on showThere are many colourful works on show

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Coasters on sale in the galleryCoasters on sale in the gallery

James is a Force For Nature Ambassador for the Tree Council, a role that has given him the confidence to share his views and environmental art on a national level.

The Tree Council has commissioned him to create a large piece of artwork which will be displayed alongside their immersive experience in different locations around the country.

“Having a gallery has also developed a closer bond for me with other local businesses in Pateley Bridge. Everyone is supportive and keen to help me in whatever way they can.” The gallery’s official opening is in June this year.

James’ artwork still appears on wooden planters in Pateley Bridge three years after he won a national award in London for the artwork he created for the town’s entry to the RHS Britain in Bloom event.

“I like to bring nature indoors to the gallery and have had many lovely displays including sycamore planters with skimmia and golden cypress, also calabash planters with house leeks.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Another cosy spot in the galleryAnother cosy spot in the gallery

“These plants have been supplied from Fishpond Wood where I hold monthly art workshops. The owner, Dr Peter Brambleby and his wife Michelle are very supportive of my environmental artwork and their woodland promotes health and wellbeing. It is a very positive experience to be working in co-operation with them."

He adds: "Peter is very talented in arts and crafts. His range of wooden candle holders and vases can be seen at my gallery.”

Having previously exhibited at Bradford Industrial Museum, James would very much like to have another opportunity to exhibit in the city.

In what is turning out to be another busy year, James has many plans for the coming months including a photo collage of a tree linked with his artist in residence work at Fishpond Wood.

*To find out more about James visit jamesowenthomas.com; James’s gallery is at 2A High Street, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire, HG3 5AW