James Cousins was born in Christchurch in 1965. In 1989 he completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Ilam, Canterbury School of Fine Arts. He graduated with a Diploma of Teaching from the Christchurch College of Education in 1998 and a Master of Fine Arts in 2004 from Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland.
In 2000 James Cousins was the recipient of the Christchurch-based Olivia Spencer Bower Award Fellowship and the works created during his residency are now part of the Christchurch City Art Gallery collection. Cousins has since been selected for inclusion in numerous award exhibitions including: The Wallace Art Awards (2005), Waikato National Art Awards (2002) and the Visa Gold Awards (1996, 1998). In 2004 Cousins was selected for inclusion in Code NZ at Canvas International in the Netherlands, which resulted in participation in the 2005 Rotterdam Art Fair. During 2007 Cousins was included in the contemporary painting exhibition: PX: A Purposeless Production/A Necessary Praxis (St Paul Street Gallery, Auckland) curated by Leonhard Emmerling. Cousins currently holds a position as lecturer at Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland.