James was born in 1954 in New Zealand, where he studied law, history, philosophy, literature and art. This eclectic education is absorbed into his practice as a painter and sculptor, along with his long-held interest in early machinery and sideshow art. For the first ten years after moving to Australia, he worked as a puppeteer and street performer and lived surrounded by dusty sculptures and paintings.
In 1988, he and his partner, Dorelle Davidson, started an art business, ‘Honeyweather & Speight’, producing murals and mosaic, children’s books, play-pieces and site-specific sculptural works. During this time he has continued his studio practice, still surrounded by dusty objects and artefacts that might one day be incorporated into his smaller kinetic works.