Gary James has lived a full life ripe with experiences that would have stopped many in their tracks, but he has soldiered on. But through all his experiences he has been, and will always be, an artist. A modern Renaissance Man.
He began drawing when he was three, sketching in the face powder that dusted his mother’s dark mahogany dresser. It is that moment that he first remembers exploring the power of dark and light. But, according to a story in the Murfreesboro Post earlier this year, James couldn’t put a name to what he was doing until kindergarten, when a teacher had the children delve into their creative skills in finger paint. His mother saved his first finger-painted masterpiece, and it now hangs in his home.
From an early age, he began selling his artwork, first for fudgesicles, and then for money. By high school, he was producing backdrops for dance companies. It was in high school that he explored many different types of art, and he excelled in all of them. He was into acting, playing the saxophone, photography, and probing into early forms of television production. Plus he taught what he had learned to others.
“I joined the Air Force in July 1974,” James says on his website, “and went [directly into] duty as an illustrator for the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I joined the graphics section as an apprentice artist, where five of the finest military illustrators honed my skills and started my career… Instilling in me the disciplines and techniques required for the profession’s status quos.”
He was chosen to become part of the ten-man Air Force Academy Graphics Department, D.F.I.T. Studios, in 1976. During this time, he honed his craft, and even had his own comic strip, called “Time Off”, in the Academy News Paper. In the comic strip, he “poked fun at the absurd and made light of human characters and situations common to military life.”
When he got out of the Airforce, he began wandering and exploring more of life. First, he moved to Houston, Texas to become a freelance graphic artist. When he got tired of that, he moved to the mountains of West Virginia. Then out to California, where he began showing his art.
And then, in 1980, he was in a terrible accident getting hit by a car while on his bicycle.
“I flew out from under the back end of the car doing sixty, somersaulting end over end 15 feet in the air for over a 150 feet landing perfectly like a crucified man, arms outstretched, bare feet together, in a perfect ‘T’. Yet, I walked away relatively whole, only fifteen minutes in the hospital to put my right arm in a sling and to stitch up a cut behind my right ear. The next day, I had nine two-inch thick, angry black horizontal stripes going through my body from ankles to my jaw. My bottom gums were black. Months before the accident, I had drawn my guardian angel’s portrait, she was witness and cradled my head that night.”
After healing from the accident, James explored more of the world by joining the U. S. Navy. He was assigned to the USS Midway.
“We sailed to China, Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Okinawa, and I also saw a lot of Japan,” writes James on his website. “My tour onboard the Midway saw me drawing a lot [of] VIP art and commemorative art, a lot of graphics for briefings and cartoons of every type and sort.”
He eventually returned home to Murfreesboro, Tennessee where he worked as a graphic artist, first for Park Industries, and then other places. He was an instructor in the Art Department at Middle Tennessee State University.
Now, he battles Multiple Sclerosis. The finger painting of his childhood is no longer possible. His tour as a pointillist painter is also gone. According to his interview in the Post, the MS is affecting the steadiness of his hands, and pointillism requires precision. But, as he has always done, he presses on.
Words are becoming his most recent form of art. He has just completed an autobiography. Titled “Gary James, Autobiography”, it has been published by Christian Faith Publishing, Inc..
James tells many stories in the book. He has lived what many would consider a wild life, from the red light districts of Asia to spending some time locked in the mental ward at the VA in Murfreesboro. He has been shot at more than once by what he calls “evil men”, and won many awards for his works of art. His life has been a roller coaster, which he simply uses in his art.
“My right hand is like a piece of concrete now,” James says. “All my life, it was the art that came first without exception, and now, it is time to put the artist first and it has changed my life. My new challenges are living through daily life. We risk our lives simply by standing and with every misstep. The fear of falling and cracking my head open is always there. The focus is on the quality of life, from here on in, we are going to teach art, promote art, sell art, and show my art, not so much drawing art. I also plan to be an Ambassador for MS. This may be the best thing ever to happen to me, in a lot of ways. We take it from this moment on. Forward, onwards, upwards, ever closer to the prize.”