With a name in the art world synonymous with sweeping skies, tropical rain forests, rich deep woods and silent deserts, artist James Coleman was always a little different from his peers. As a young boy growing up in southern California, while everyone else was pursuing outdoor activities, he was far more inclined to paint and draw. It seems his creative abilities dominated his world, and with good reason. Though he lacked the athletic prowess of his young friends, he more than made up for it with imagination, ingenuity, and drive. As a young man, his interest in filmmaking and fine art would mark the beginning of a long, successful career in animated films, as his artistic dedication earned him a job at Walt Disney Studios in 1969. It was there that he eventually found his artistic niche as a background animation specialist, contributing his formidable skills to the making of many classic Disney films. It was under Coleman's gentle hand that classics such as Winnie the Pooh, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast came to life with vital, pulsating background images gracing the screen during a career that spanned over two decades. The images created by this talented man continue to delight all who appreciate inventive, vibrant art. "I attempt to push the statement I am making to its ultimate, both in design and in use of color."
Coleman didn't need to struggle to find his way to Hollywood; rather, he was born there (in 1949). he began his career with Disney Studios when his mother, who had been working as a secretary with Disney since the Hyperion days, got him a job in the studio's mailroom. His break came when he entered one of his paintings in the studio art show. Several of the company artists, including Ken Anderson, a leading artist and story man for Disney, viewed his work, saw his potential, and realized Coleman had untapped ability. Walt Disney Productions welcomed his energies with open arms. His first film, Winnie, the Pooh and Tigger, too, sparked his interest not only in painting backgrounds but also in design and color styling. After finishing work on The Rescuers, his first feature film, he was promoted to Background Department Supervisor, a position he held for nearly two decades. During that time, he personally hired and trained a select group of artists, whom he would work with for most of his career at Disney. His creative "fingerprints" can be found on a long list of favorites, beginning with that "willy, nilly, silly old bear" and concluding with two nubile young ladies, one who lived under the sea and one who loved a veritable beast. While at Disney, Coleman styled and worked on twelve feature films and over thirty short subjects, including Mickey's Christmas CaroI, The Fox and the Hound, The Great Mouse Detective, The Black Cauldron, and, of course, the Academy Award-winning Beauty and the Beast, all of which came to life with Coleman's background images gracing the silver screen.
"This was a major event for me," said Coleman, recalling the early experiences that led him from the mailroom to the artist chair. "At first, I didn't realize just how major it was. But it literally changed my life. I had no idea what it would lead to." The most common misconception, Coleman says, about Disney is that, given the nature of the work, every day on the job must be entertaining. In truth, when faced with the task of providing entertainment every day of the year through a variety of media
, there is no such thing as a holiday. The creative minds behind Disney all strive diligently to achieve that carefree spirit every day. It is extraordinarily hard to continuously be fresh and imaginative year in and year out, especially for devoted fans who return time and again to the theaters or theme parks, expecting a high-quality experience. Coleman has been steeped in the Disney culture, living a Cinderella story that mirrors the rags-to-riches theme so beloved of our cherished Disney classics and prevalent in American mythology. Still, Coleman wouldn't have it any other way. He contributed to something that he long ago decided he wanted to be a part of - "I can remember Walt Disney getting the Academy Award for Mary Poppins and thinking, 'That's what I want to do someday."
Coleman's true passion, however, always was fine art, and he eventually left Disney in order to turn his attention to the canvas full time, devoting all of his effort and talent to his own personal art. He likens this life changing decision to a window needing to be opened - "Windows can be intimidating because you don't know what's out there," he said. "But once you step through it, you're faced with this enormous amount of possibility. I never liked looking at windows directly, because once I see one, I have to go through it."
Of course, Coleman did not stay away from Disney for too long. Eventually he found himself mixing fine art with the Disney characters he had worked with for so many years. Coleman works in oil, watercolor, gouache and pastel. His work is impressionistic and luminous. His pieces intrigue the eye and touch the heart. His paintings are warm, inviting and unique. A master of color, light and design, Coleman has become one of the most collected and sought after artists around the world. Though Coleman favors traditional materials, his work is very non-traditional. Whether you visit galleries in the Far East or closer to home, his work is highly sought after. Perhaps his ability to capture light, that most elusive of prey for artists worldwide, draws viewers in, or maybe we are mesmerized by his signature treatment of captivating images of nature. "One of the teachers in art school said he was going to take us into his studio and show us a brush stroke he had worked his whole life to invent. I just looked at this guy and said to myself - 'This is a bunch of nonsense.' I realized he was intellectualizing something that, in my mind, was a spiritual thing. Painting isn't an intellectual study . . . it comes from the heart," said Coleman, contrasting his formal training with his intuition. "Basically, I see something, store it in my mind and study it. Then, when I get back to the studio, it just comes out... Everything we see is imprinted in our brain. And if we're able to connect with those images, we can call them back and use them."
The more you get to know him, you come to understand his deeply spiritual nature and his humble approach to life. Many find Coleman's spiritual devotion to be the most compelling component of his art. In a recent discussion, Coleman clarified his faith-based approach. He views himself in a partnership with God, seeking to create more than "just... a pretty painting." The creative process may at first be a function of executing a technique or strategy, but at some point it evolves so "that part of your heart and soul become the most important element in a painting." His frank revelation of his spiritual connection as he paints enhances our understanding of his work.
Today, Coleman continues to illuminate the art world with his vibrant colors, gentle moods, powerful design, and exquisite detail. His work is known for its calming feelings and dynamic colors, much of his work exploring the beauty of nature, as he has frequently painted wooded and tropical landscapes as well as seascapes. Many of Coleman's most stunning seascapes are not inspired by the West Coast Sea, as one may guess by looking at his birthplace. Instead, they are inspired by the Hawaiian Islands, one of this favorite places to relax and create (Coleman first started visiting Hawaii as an escape from work, but eventually, he couldn't resist the impulse to paint the beautiful scenery). Paintings like Aloha Spirit, Island Memories, and Paradise, which utilize stunning blends of blues, pinks, and greens, exemplify the relaxed feeling of a Hawaiian paradise. Many of Coleman's latest paintings could be classified as Romantic Impressionism. These works contain beautiful hues, and although they are classic in technique, they are innovative and original in style and cover a variety of themes. Some of these works even take a slightly abstract vantage point. Coleman's wonderful sense of color and ability to translate emotion into image molded his professional career as a fine artist. The contribution made by Coleman to the world of art over some thirty years, both in film and fine art, makes him one of the most collected and celebrated artists in contemporary art. As a result, his paintings are some of the most valuable works of contemporary fine art in the world. In fact, his pieces can be found in many fine, personal, and corporate collections including that of the Disney family. His work is represented by some of the most prominent and respected galleries in North America, the Orient and the Hawaiian Islands. Many of his backgrounds are available to buy as prints, while some of his Disney-related work has been made as original works.
Coleman is an avid environmentalist involved with many environmental agencies, including the National Parks. As you might expect, he also enjoys painting nature and spending time relaxing in outdoors. He has been a finalist for five years in the Arts for the Parks competition.
World Wide Art
World Wide Art is known for its wide selection of limited editions and originals by renowned artists, including the magnificent works of James Coleman. Their expert staff also specializes in custom conservation framing
. In business since 1996, World Wide Art is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a well-known art shop for both serious collectors and casual decorators. The staff at World-Wide-Art.com not only deals art, but are collectors and artists themselves who consider their work a labor of love and lifestyle of art appreciation.