Long-time Murfreesboro graphic artist Gary James has written a book about his life, his art and his faith — all of which are connected.
The book “Gary James, Autobiography”, published by Christian Faith Publishing, Inc., is a series of anecdotes from his life, along with his reflections on his choices and progress. Some of the anecdotes are funny, some serious and some … raw.
James has been an artist and a teacher of art for his whole career, having taught graphics arts at Middle Tennessee State University. He also draws for private clients and appears at trade shows in the area.
When he was younger, James’ experiences seemed random, he said, but as he looks back on his life, he sees the pattern and the influence of God, often affecting him in very subtle ways, and working that influence into his art.
James said that his very first experience with art was on the first day of kindergarten. His teacher planned a fingerpainting session and said, “Let’s see who all the little artists are!”
James writes, “And when I heard the word ‘artist,’ it was if a thunderbolt had hit me square in the chest.” He said that he knew he would be an artist from that point forward.
James had gone off to the side of the classroom to find a quiet place to work. He concentrated on his creation, brown fingerpaint on crème construction paper, using his fingers to etch the outline of the sun and the texture of a wheatfield.
One of his classmates, a little blond-haired girl came over to his table to inspect his work, saying “Oh, how pretty!” as she picked it up with her lime-green paint-covered fingers. The green fingerprints transferred the color to his art. He screamed, thinking the art was ruined, and then recovered, sorry for his outburst. He told the young girl that her effort had added some much-needed color to his art.
Now in his 60s, James still has his first artwork, complete with lime-green fingerprints courtesy of his kindergarten classmate. He said it was his mother’s favorite work; she kept it for more than 40 years before she returned it to him for safekeeping. Now framed, it holds pride of place in his artist’s studio and home.
When starting his career, James joined the Air Force and advanced his art in the service, at first in his off time. He created art for himself, and always shared his talents with others, teaching art when there was an opportunity.
Over time, working at the air base level, James had begun to develop quite a portfolio. He applied for a competitive, premier assignment in the graphic arts department of the Air Force Academy, working for the dean of faculty and instruction technology.
After accepting the job, he found himself working with military and civilian artists, preparing training materials for the academy classrooms. He continued to teach art on the side, sometimes for the academy cadets, sometimes for children at the academy.
The lead illustrator at the Air Force Academy saw potential in the young artist and suggested he leave the service for a civilian career. There were a number of experiences in his civilian career that influenced his art, including getting run over by a car and nearly dying. He gives details about his recovery in the book.
He returned to military service, this time with the Navy, where some of his duties included preparing highly classified briefings and their presentation materials. Again, on the side, he made art for himself and taught others.
James preferred form of art is in the Pointillism Style, a technique of painting and drawing in which small, distinct dots of ink or color are applied in patterns to form an image. The mind and the eye of the viewer blends the color or ink dots into a more complete range of tones in the larger image. It requires a steady hand and much patience. James says his Pointillist paintings often have a million dots.
He also creates art with other materials, including colored beeswax, and the color blending that comes with that style. He’s completed more than 1,000 artworks.
James also developed multiple sclerosis, which has affected the steadiness of his hands, especially as Pointillism requires precise placement of the millions of tiny ink dots.
His book is also art, though written art is a new experience for him.
James says that as far as he’s concerned, Murfreesboro is the center of his universe and jokes about the city being very close to the center of Tennessee.