From his earliest childhood memories, James McGrew remembers his inspiration to draw/paint and photograph the beautiful world of the Western U.S. His family camping/backpacking trips to Yosemite, Tahoe, Trinities, Southern Oregon and the Coast were a major influence. Though he began with watercolors, gouache, pencils and crayons, he quickly picked up pastels at the age of 8 and oils by age 10. He grew up with a love of nature, sports and performing arts.
Today those all influence his painting and photograph which goes beyond creating pretty representations. James explains: “I use my art as a vehicle to communicate to a wider audience than I can via an interpretive naturalist program. My goal is to inspire others to appreciate natural beauty to hopefully generate a sense of stewardship.”
James frequently visited Yosemite National Park since he was just 4 months old and today its his primary subject and inspiration. He has worked as a summer seasonal Yosemite naturalist since 1996, teaching and inspiring groups on weeklong backpack trips, evening programs and hikes. He backpacks several hundred miles a year, always with a pochade, tripod and cameras. James works in his Oregon studio for most of the year, but prefers to get out and paint direct from life in the fresh air, with rugged hikes, and rapidly changing light and weather that makes plein air painting so challenging and rewarding. When not traveling to a national park, he often hikes around his own neighborhood for inspiration. “I’m fortunate that my studio is just a short walk from home and sits on the slope of an old shield volcano with walking paths leading to views of Mounts Hood, Adams, Rainier, St. Helens, and the Coast Range. I can find a painting within just a 20 min walk.”
McGrew’s award winning artwork hangs in collections around the world has shown in top competitions, museums and galleries including many solo shows. He is a member of the Oil Painters of America, American Impressionist Society and the California Art Club. With a strong science background, James has a unique level of understanding of his subject matter. In addition to degrees in biology, chemistry and geology, his master’s thesis (environmental education) focused on the role of art in Yosemite’s preservation as the foundation of our National Parks. He has presented as a keynote speaker at major science, art, and education conferences including the Artists Impressions of California Conference.
James paints en plein air and later orchestrates his field studies with photography and strong visual memory to create his refined studio paintings. Such works often tell stories or serve as complex metaphors. His style is most influenced by a combination of the Hudson River School, California Impressionists and French Impressionists, and Romantics.
Participants on his programs say his love and enthusiasm for nature is contagious. His inspirational teaching styles reach a broad audience as he interweaves art and science in an entertaining manner that people easily understand. In all his artwork, James uses highest quality materials and time-tested techniques coupled with modern technology for museum quality. James resides in Oregon with his family and especially enjoys painting, hiking, exploring and fly-fishing along side his two talented daughters.
In 2016, James won the People’s Choice Award for the fourth consecutive year at the Grand Canyon Plein Air Invitational. In the quick draw portion of the event, he set a new auction record with the highest opening bid and highest final bid.