Gallery Artists > James Bama Biography :

James Bama (b. 1926)  Artworks >>

Organizations* : NAWA

James Bama became a leading interpreter of today’s West through a series of unpredictable circumstances. A native New Yorker who never saw the West until he was 40 years old, Bama declares himself to be “the biggest accident that ever happened.”

Bama graduated from New York City’s High School of Music and Arts and then served in the military for three years during World War II. After leaving the service, he attended the Art Students League and became a renowned illustrator in New York, working for magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Argosy, and Reader’s Digest, as well as companies such as Ford, General Electric and Coca-Cola. During this time, Bama also created hundreds of book covers, including 62 for the “Doc Savage” books published by Bantam Press. He was also commissioned by the Baseball and Football Hall of Fame, as well as being the official artist for the New York Giants football team.

However, in 1966, Bama spent a vacation in Wyoming at the guest ranch of a fellow illustrator and got an idea of how different his life might be. Two years later, Bama and his wife moved away from New York to Wapiti, Wyoming. In the Wyoming mountains, Bama continued his illustration work, and, despite his new home, was not especially concerned with western themes. However, after attending the local pow wows, rodeos and Western reenactments, Bama became increasingly interested in the local people and in 1971 gave up illustration to pursue fine art.

Now known for his photo-real figures and satin-smooth paintings that capture the Wild West, Bama is sometimes referred to as the “Vermeer of the West.” He works from a tidy home studio he and his wife, Lynn, built. There, he converts his many photographs into paintings, photographing his subjects in black and white, enlarging the photos, and beginning his painting with an outline of the photographic image.

In 1978 the Bamas moved into their present home on a sagebrush-covered hillside some 20 miles west of Cody, Wyoming, in the village of Wapiti on the highway to Yellowstone National Park.

Reference:, the Society of Illustrators

  • NAWA = National Academy of Western Artists
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