Legends of Fine Art | James Bama

James Bama

By Gussie Fauntleroy

James Bama had never lived outside the city when he and his wife moved from Manhattan to a cabin in Wyoming in 1968. But the qualities that made Bama one of the country’s leading illustrators—highly detailed realism and compelling impact—have served him equally well in his long and much-admired second career as a fine artist. In 2003, he was the first Honored Artist at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s Buffalo Bill Art Show in Cody, WY. While Bama’s portraits of American Indians, mountain men, and cowboys are real people of the contemporary West, their faces suggest powerful stories of times long past.

Born: New York, NY, 1926.
Resides: Wapiti, WY, 31 miles from Yellowstone National Park.
Proudest accomplishment: I left illustration at the peak of my career, left an 18-story apartment house with a doorman, and moved to a cabin in Wyoming. Everyone thought we were crazy, but we did it, and it was the right thing.
What would you have done differently in your life? Nothing. Through sheer chance I got out of illustration at the right time. I wasn’t aware of western art when I moved out here; I just painted what was around me. And it just happened to be at the point when [the market for] western art took off.


Advice to young artists: Get good training and learn to draw. It starts with drawing. Then work 17 hours a day!
Motto you have lived by over the years: When I die I’d like my tombstone to say: He was a nice person.
Biggest misconception about an artist’s life: That we don’t need time to work. During one two-week period, 30 people dropped by my studio.
How has your work changed since starting out? In switching to fine art, I got to do what I wanted to do, not what other people wanted me to do.
How has the art market changed? It’s gone into digital, computers, and Photoshop. That’s the world we live in, but it’s not something I’m interested in doing.
Other interests: I love to read, I love movies, and I’m a real sports nut. And I stay in shape. This morning I did 600 push-ups in sets of 50, walked up a steep hill and then down, did roll-outs, and hit a heavy bag, all before breakfast.
Recent news: There’s another book coming out on me, in 2010, about my realist paintings in other countries.

He is represented by Big Horn Galleries, Cody, WY, and Tubac, AZ; Greenwich Workshop, Seymour, CT.

Featured in “Legends of Fine Art” in December 2008