Art career did not come accidentally for James Sum, a UK-based Malaysian artist, although he spent most of his life in a distant land far away from his hometown, Penang. But in fact, it was the pursuit of art which brought him first to Dublin, and then to London where he enrolled himself into the Sir John Cass School of Art, and then the Brixton School of Building with the littlest of funds he gathered from his mother and uncle.
After a few stints as an interior designer and realising a nine-to-five job was not his cup of tea, he began to freelance as a graphic designer, then opened his own design firm while at the same time, submitted his works to the Royal Academy of Arts. As the demands of family took a toll over his interest to paint, he painted mostly in the evening, dividing his time between minding his practice and subsequently a restaurant, antique and quarry business.
James Sum was equally proficient in Western abstract art painting and traditional Chinese painting. Abstract landscape has always been his oeuvre. In 1994, two out of three paintings James submitted to the Royal Academy of Art were chosen for its Summer Exhibition. Encouraged by this success, he again submitted his works the following year and again the same thing happened. The Royal Watercolour Society then invited him to participate in their Summer Exhibition which eventu-ally garnered the Outstanding New Entrant Award (CATTO Award), a first for any Asian, since the Royal Watercolour Society’s inception in 1804.
Following his success, major auction houses began to sought him out. In 2005 alone, Sotheby’s chose 17 pieces of his works for auction at its 20th Century Asian Art auction in London. It was an honour for him for rarely does Sotheby’s obtain works from artist directly. His string of solo exhibi-tions (18 in total) include a Retrospective Exhibition organised by the Penang State Art Gallery in 2016.
In 2011, James was selected as a recipient of the “World Chinese Entrepreneur Award” by the World Chinese Venture Model Association, a solemn award ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square, Beijing. In recognition of his contribution to the arts, a postage stamp featuring his portrait was issued. In 2014, James was again selected as an Overseas Chinese Model, one of 65 to be featured on Commemorative postage stamps celebrating the 65th an-niversary of the People’s Republic of China and the rest, as they say, is history.