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 James Elliott Bama  (1926 - )

About: James Elliott Bama


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Lived/Active: Wyoming/New York      Known for: western-subject painting, magazine illustration

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BIOGRAPHY for James Bama
1926 (New York City)
Wyoming/New York

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western-subject painting, magazine illustration

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Western Painters
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A native New Yorker, James Bama creates photo-real figures and paintings that capture the old "wild west."  He keeps a very tidy studio from where he converts his many photographs into paintings whose surfaces are so smooth and satiny that some people refer to him as the "Vermeer of the West" (McGarry 30).

He graduated from New York City's High School of Music and Arts and then served in the military for three years.  He attended the Art Students League and became a renowned illustrator in New York, working for Saturday Evening Post, Argosy,  and Reader's Digest.  He also did over sixty book covers for Doc Savage books of Bantam Press.

In 1968, he and his wife moved to Wapiti, Wyoming, near Cody, in the mountains where he continued his illustration work and was not especially interested in western themes.  However, attending pow wows, rodeos, and reenactments, he became increasingly interested in the local people and in 1971 gave up illustration.

He works from a home studio built by him and his wife.  He photographs his subjects in black and white, enlarges the photos, and makes an outline on tracing paper.

Susan McGarry, "Covering the West", Southwest Art, July 1995, p. 31

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
James Bama is a “very realistic” painter of contemporary Western portraits and still lifes in oil and watercolor, born in New York City in 1926 and living in Wapiti, Wyoming, since 1968. “I have always felt out of place with anecdotal paintings of historical scenes, roundups and brandings,” he emphasizes. “I feel that my themes are universal. I would like to think that I am producing a body of work that makes a valid statement about life and the West today.”

After he graduated from New York City’s High School of Music and Arts, Bama served in the military and then attended the Arts Students League for three years under the G.I. Bill. When he moved to Wyoming, he was a leading illustrator and for years he continued doing only commercial work because he “couldn’t see” Western art. “As time passed, the local people began to interest me.” He began painting his “childhood fantasies of the old Wild West,” and in 1971 gave up illustration completely. “Convinced that I was being boxed in by subject matter,” however, “I took my paintings back to the Coe Kerr Gallery in New York, hoping to gain acceptance as a 20th century realist.”

Bama photographs his subjects in black and white, enlarges them to 11 by 14 inch prints, and then makes an outline drawing on tracing paper. Light and color are determined on a series of small drawings. The large drawing is then shaded and transferred to a gessoes panel and painted. Bama says that “the photograph is just another tool and only as good as the painter who uses it.” He has been featured in Southwest Art, Art West, and Saturday Review, is listed in Who’s Who in American Art, and has declined membership in Western art groups.

Resource: Contemporary Western Artists, by Peggy and Harold Samuels 1982, Judd’s Inc., Washington, D.C.

Biography from J Watson Fine Art:
In his much-acclaimed studies, Bama shows the contemporary West preserving its traditional culture. His portraits of inhabitants of the plains and mountains capture the true character of the West. Today his paintings are part of many prestigious collections.

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