Emerging Artists | Ralph Grady James

A slice of heaven

Ralph Grady James, Ibis-in-the-Marsh, oil, 24 x 30.

Ralph Grady James, Ibis-in-the-Marsh, oil, 24 x 30.

This story was featured in the September 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art September 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

North Carolina’s Outer Banks are home to white sandy beaches, picturesque lighthouses, and ocean breezes that sweep over the unspoiled coastal terrain. The 200-mile-long string of narrow barrier islands off the Atlantic Coast are often the inspiration for Ralph Grady James’ landscape and wildlife scenes. The native of North Carolina says he is especially drawn to the coastal areas where the land meets brackish estuaries that eventually flow into the sea. “These are the places which have my heart, my passion, and also my concern,” James says. “I paint these areas because of their overwhelming beauty but also because of their ecological importance.”

Although the self-taught artist paints in all genres, he finds that his focus has narrowed to wildlife and still-life works. To each genre he brings his trademark expressive brush strokes and sensitivity to portraying light accurately. As James likes to say, the light is the magic that turns a ho-hum painting into a dramatic scene of great beauty.

In the painting EARLY LIGHT, James captures an atmospheric scene on 
Ocracoke Island, where he spends each October painting and gathering refer-ence material for his works. He describes the island as “heaven on earth”—a retreat accessible only by ferry and blessed with miles of deserted beaches and marshes. “It is an incredibly serene, peaceful 
place, and I usually have it all to myself,” James says. “These are the places that reset and excite my desire to paint.”

This month one of James’ wildlife 
paintings, depicting two seabirds flying over the ocean, is on view in the prestigious Birds in Art show at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, WI.  James hopes that paintings such as this one not only convey the beauty of nature and natural habitats but also serve as a reminder of the terrible environmental tragedies that are unfolding on our nation’s coastlines. “These widely broadcast events and other less-publicized problems are a story I am hoping to tell in my art—the story that we need these wild places as much or more than they need us,” James says. 
—Bonnie Gangelhoff

Howard/Mandville Gallery, Kirkland, WA; Saks Galleries, Denver, CO; Germanton Gallery, Germanton, NC; Edward Dare Gallery, Charleston, SC.

Featured in the September 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art September 2014 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!

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