James Griffin’s painting, “Sweet Summer”
James Griffin has two shows upcoming in Johnson CIty this year.
Griffin’s painting, “Rapids.”
Staff Writer
James Griffin has two shows upcoming in Johnson CIty this year.
Though he’s only lived in the area for a couple years, having moved to Johnson City in 2020 to be closer to family, James Griffin is doing what he can to immerse himself in the local art scene, with shows scheduled at two local galleries in the coming months.
Griffin has always enjoyed art, and knew he wanted to make a living doing it. After graduating from Pratt Institute in New York, Griffin found freelance work illustrating paperback book covers, and said his time living in London helped him “see the larger picture of the art world and history.” He describes his style as straddling a “thin line between realism and abstraction,” and depicts a wide array of scenes in his artwork — everything from cityscapes to nature.
He’s also published a book, which features short essays about life and work that came from a newsletter he started a decade ago and his artwork. It’s titled “The Road to Home, Art and Essays of James Griffin.”
His art is on display in four galleries and two museums, and he will have two shows in Johnson City in July and September. His first show will be held at Robins on Roan, 1305 N. Roan St., and starts on July 1 with an opening reception from 4-6 p.m. He’ll have another show at the recently opened Atelier 133 gallery at 133 N. Commerce St., which will run from Sept. 3-30. Griffin will have dozens of original works on display, mostly of Northeast Tennessee, and said “it is a great honor to show my work at both these venues.”
A book signing event will also be held at both shows, and copies will be available.
Recently, Griffin spoke with the Press via email about his style of art, how he got interested in art and his artistic process.
They say that art is passion, and my passion for it began at a young age. I looked at any art I could find, Saturday Evening Post covers, art books, even Sears catalogs. When we moved to London, I was at the right place and the right age to soak up 2,000 years of art history. It was also a time for radical new art, which I also embraced. I learned a tremendous amount about painting by looking at the original art, hanging on the walls at the Tate and British Museums. I had a few jobs after college, but my passion for art couldn’t be stopped.
I learned early on how to make things look real in drawings and paintings. That fit in well with my illustration work, where I painted covers for romance, mystery, and other novels. I always experimented with abstraction and wanted to find a way to combine realism with abstract painting.
Through decades of experimentation, I have come to a style that feels right to me. It straddles the thin line between realism and abstraction. The canvases are painted with a wild energy that somehow coalesces into an image that is understandable from a distance. Up close, the images appears as a feast of scrapings and brushstrokes that look completely abstract. That tension between the real and the emotional is what give the images power.
Griffin’s painting, “Rapids.”
It’s true that I vary the subject a lot. I love to work on landscapes and the hills and rivers of Tennessee have been a major inspiration for that. I also love painting people. My wife, Debbie, has been a constant model for me, along with my daughter’s family. I have to feel some kind of resonance with the subject, whatever it is, but just as important as what I paint is how I paint it. In a way, the very brushstrokes become the subject of my work.
That’s a great question! I feel that no color stands alone, in the world or in a painting. They all exist in relation to one another. What I work for is a movement of color that carries the eyes into and around the painting. I don’t have a favorite color. They’re all delicious!
James Griffin’s painting, “Sweet Summer”
I’m sure you’ve heard artists say their favorite piece is the one they’re working on. That’s true for me, too. For instance, I’m almost done with a painting of an area at Sycamore Shoals, looking across to the other side of the river. It has such interesting lighting, the line of scraggly trees at the edge of the water, the sun reflecting on patches of fast-moving water, it is intoxicating with possibilities.
On the site, I sketch a small pen and ink drawing and take pictures with my phone. Then, in my studio, I just start painting in a very abstract way that bears only the slightest resemblance to the scene but has the energy and excitement I felt standing before it. I must resist the tendency toward realism, to keep the energy alive as the image begins to take shape on the canvas.
You can find more of his work on his website, www.jamesgriffinstudio.com.
 
Staff Writer
Jonathan Roberts is a reporter and photographer for the Johnson City Press covering Health Care, Johnson City and Jonesborough. He is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and has been with the Press since 2019.
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