James Albert Hanes - American Artist
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James Albert Hanes

About James Hanes

Most people who become artists begin at an early age, but without the training, it’s more of an impulse, like throwing and catching a ball. I can say that I began in this manner. Since I was a boy, I developed the habit of drawing by carrying with me a pocket sized sketch pad. I have found that through the years this has served me well.

What you draw in the sketch book will speak to you later and take you back in the mind. The camera can’t do that, it is a one-eyed monster with no discernment. I am always astonished to find the camera doesn’t see what I see. I don’t buy postcards of the places I paint because the photo gets between me and the subject. Then I am robbed of what I came for, the surprise. A drawing is a diagram of the truth.

I got my first set of oil paints when I was six years old. I received my first commission when I was ten. (A farmer asked me to paint his cat, and gave me ten dollars, which I thought was pretty good.)

I studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for three years. I began in the back studio of the main building on Cherry Street in Philadelphia. Roy Nuse was teaching a figure class. He wore a blue smock over a pinstripe suit. He would walk behind us, talking about the flute in Beethoven’s 6th Symphony with an occasional “get those smashing darks!” At the end of one class, he awarded a prize “for the student who had painted the best figure.” He called in the janitor, sat him down and painted his portrait as a demonstration. He then awarded it to me, “To Hanes from R. Nuse,” and then inscribed on the back what the prize was for. That was a generous thing to do.

Then I won the Prix de Rome to attend the American Academy in Rome, and my life completely changed. I received a letter from Albert Barnes and Ms. de Mazia in congratulations. (“You deserved it.”) What followed was the opening up of a new world. I had never been to Italy, which was for me almost the birth of civilization. During my four years there, I traveled, painted and got married. It was the major event of my life. I was able to show work done in Rome, Tuscany and other areas in Italy.

I studied the Renaissance artists for their great expressiveness, and the Greek sculptors because they are completely unsentimental—and true. I saw and learned from the works of Corot, Rubens, and all the great Italians, the sculptors, painters, and architects. I admired French nineteenth century landscape painting, where the landscape itself was more important than the subject or the people in it. They wanted to drop the heroes of the wars, the nationalistic subjects, and return to the freedom that nature offered—broadly handled paint style with virtually no subject. Of course the subject was there but no longer was it traditional, nor handled in the familiar way. Hence they were called “Impressionists.”

I was drawing every day, which trained my eye and enhanced my skills. Whether it was the French countryside, a man playing the organ, the road to Paris in the rain, or the ‘Bar Basque’ in Biarritz, what I did was to draw the people as they were living their lives, and the places as they were at the time.

My studio in Rome had a garden attached, and so I began to paint more and more outdoors, now a habit of many years. During this period I was quite productive and exhibited frequently. One morning in Porto Santo Stefano I was painting a fisherman’s house situated on a road overlooking the sea. A truck pulled up just behind me and stopped. The driver climbed down from his rig and stood watching me paint. Then, after a spell and needing to leave, he approached me, tipped his hat and said one word, “formidabile,” and left. I’ve always had much to thank Italy for, but this sage of transportation is one more.

Upon returning to America, I supported myself at first by restoring old paintings. I went on to teach at Rosemont College, the Pennsylvania Academy, and LaSalle University, and to exhibit throughout the east coast.

Institutions, academies, universities and publications will gladly explain to you what you are doing, but my style is just what comes out of me. I work from inspiration. I think of my subjects as genre scenes of everyday life, preparations in the garden or the kitchen. Still lifes, nudes and animals—I am open to whatever I respond to.

Whatever the subject, I hone the contours of form and the pulsating natural color always escaping. I continue to paint out of doors when I can, facing nature’s light and colors, especially when I’m in Italy or in Maine. I paint every day, and my approach has always been to work hard and to keep my standards high.

Above all, my paintings are closely connected with nature and those who love it. I think this makes me a Romantic. My style is a colorful treatment of the natural, or real, response to nature. I try to be direct and immediate—the complexity of vision reduced to the simplicity of thought. To me, what is natural is perfect in nature—it can’t be flattered. In nature there are always surprises.




 © James Hanes 2006. All rights reserved.