James McGrew – Biography

Photo: Brittany Colt

Yosemite first met James McGrew on his maiden backpacking trip at just four months old. Subsequent family backpacking excursions inspired an early interest in art and nature for the young boy as he was constantly drawing and painting. James began using pastels at the age of eight and by ten, he was using his father’s oils. Today he is best known for his interpretations in oil of the grand landscapes of our western National Parks.

A strong background in the natural sciences, degrees in biology, chemistry and geology along with his graduate work in environmental education gave James a foundational understanding of the natural world, motivating him to follow in the footsteps of the many 19th century artists whose paintings helped to establish the first national parks. In addition to painting, for the past twenty-one summers James McGrew has also worked as a Yosemite ranger/naturalist. Every aspect of his life is directed at encouraging love and protection of our national parks and the environment. He doesn’t just want you to look at Yosemite, he wants you to know it, feel it, smell it, experience it at every level as he does. When teaching workshops, James interweaves art and science in an entertaining manner easy to understand and he has volunteered countless hours teaching art history in elementary through high schools. He loves backpacking, painting and fly fishing with his family.

James prefers to paint en plein air and can work on canvases as large as 30 x 40 inches while outside in nature. However, he creates his largest and most refined paintings in the studio from his plein air studies. Hiking or backpacking several hundred miles a year, he looks for unique perspectives and a deeper connection with nature. He feels strongly that paintings should not only visually portray a scene, they should convey the emotions of the actual experience. Inspired by a combination of Romanticism and Impressionism, McGrew paints with a style that is largely self-taught and uniquely his own.

McGrew’s paintings hang in collections around the world and he has shown in numerous national, international exhibitions and plein air invitationals, receiving many awards including best of show at Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, the Zion Foundation Award (top honor and painting commission used for the following year’s promotion of the Zion Plein Air Invitational); five consecutive People’s Choice Awards at Grand Canyon and three consecutive years at Zion. He is an artist member of the California Art Club and a signature member of both the American Impressionist Society and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association. His work has been featured in articles of Fine Art Connoisseur, Plein Air Magazine, Southwest Art, and Western Art Collector. He has presented as a keynote speaker at numerous art and science conferences and presented on stage and as a field painter at Plein Air Convention, 2016, Tucson, Arizona.