Born in 1979 in Grimsby, Bland's artistic career began with 8-bit computer programming in his early teens. It was through this that Bland developed a fascination with the visual design elements of computer programming. At 16, Bland began rendering imaginary worlds in oil paint rather than computer circuitry and started advertising his services as a portraitist in the Grimsby Evening Telegraph. This period as a portrait painter for local families and their pets paved the way for Bland's Diploma in Fine Art from Grimsby College, a first-class BA and an MA in Fine Art from Canterbury Christchurch University. Bland's first solo exhibition was in 2003 at Darwin College, University of Kent while he was completing his BA in Fine Art. Since then, Bland has gone onto exhibit his works in Oxford, Canterbury, California and London. James Bland's self-portrait was acquired by Ruth Borchard Collection in 2013.
Amidst his solo shows, Bland has been the recipient of multiple awards. In 2007, Bland was awarded an Artist Residency in Tuscany and was the recipient of the Janet Konstam Travel Award. In 2013, Bland won the Windsor and Newton Oil Painters Award and in 2015, he was awarded the Doreen McIntosh Prize.
Known for his figurative paintings, Bland's works revel in oil paint's capacity for loose and unconstrained brushwork. Memory, folklore and dreams are recurrent themes in Bland's body of work, instilled in each work throughout his creative process. Bland begins his painting process with observational sketches drawn from live models and homemade props. As each work progresses, Bland infuses these foundational sketches with memory and imagination. Bland revises his paintings continually, often changing his original work substantially in a method he cites as inspired by Giorgione and Braque. Bland cites his key aesthetic influences as traditional Asian art, medieval manuscripts and children's drawings.
Bland's Self-Portrait takes himself as the observational subject of his work. Bland's face is rendered in a palette of ashy and earth tones, at once emerging from and fading into the background of the portrait.