James Coe is an artist with a passion for birds, nature, old barns, and relics of our rural heritage. Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, he was fascinated early on by the egrets and shorebirds he noticed in nearby salt marshes, and he taught himself to identify the birds he spotted around town. He began to paint as a teenager when he and a friend set out to compile a field guide to the local birds.
Jim went on to Harvard, where he earned a degree in biology, with the goal of becoming an ornithologist, but he received little formal training in art until he attended Parson’s School of Design in New York as a graduate student. There he studied in a traditional atelier setting, working primarily from the figure and still life, under the guidance of painters Paul Resika, Leland Bell, and John Heliker.
Immediately after earning his master’s degree at Parson’s Jim shifted gears again and immersed himself in the art of field guide illustration. He contributed work to several books, including the recently reissued Easy Bird Guide: West, and Birds of New Guinea, and to Frank Gill’s classic college textbook Ornithology. But he is best known as the author and illustrator of the acclaimed Golden Field Guide Eastern Birds, first published in 1994, and reissued in 2001 by St. Martin’s Press.
Finally, after more than fifteen years of painting only bird identification plates—each carefully rendered in watercolor and gouache—Jim stepped back across the divide into the world of ‘fine’ art, and he turned his attention to painting landscapes in plein air. For motifs, he initially zeroed-in on the hills and streams, farms, and historic barns of New York’s Hudson Valley region where he lived. He found that many of the skills needed to capture the fleeting light and dynamic conditions of the landscape were analogous to those he had previously developed for sketching birds as they foraged or preened. Both rely on careful observation, practiced visual memory, speed, and instinct. But the vigor and physical energy that it took to dash a quick field study in oil paints were new to Jim's work at that time, and they clearly helped shape his approach to painting.
While he continues to paint on site for studies and reference, Jim’s artwork today is essentially a synthesis of the two genres: his studio paintings combine his passion for landscape with a finely detailed knowledge of natural history. In many of his canvases, he integrates a bird into the landscape, all–the-while striving still to maintain the freshness and vigorous brushwork of a plein air study. The chosen bird is usually one that Jim heard or observed while working on location. But the bird is not simply pasted into the scene for illustrative or narrative purposes; instead, Jim’s goal is to introduce an element of movement, color, or interest to the composition. He hopes to evoke the poetic quality of birdwatching: that magical moment when bird, environment, and atmosphere merge into one memorable image. Kathy Foley, director of the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, WI has described Jim's wildlife paintings as being "ethereal, moody, and sensitive all at once."
Jim is a Signature Member of the prestigious Oil Painters of America, as well as the American Impressionist Society and Society of Animal Artists. As a longtime member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Animal Artists Jim now serves as the Jury Chair and oversees the selection of the SAA's annual exhibition. For more than 35 years he has been a regular exhibitor in the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum’s prestigious "Birds in Art" annual and in 2011 was recognized as the Museum's 32nd Master Wildlife Artist.
Jim’s paintings have won awards and mention in many professional juried exhibitions, including the prestigious Alden Bryan Medal and first place in the Laumeister Fine Art Competition. He is represented in the permanent collections of the New York State Museum, Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis, Museum of American Bird Art at MassAudubon, the Hiram Blauvelt and Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museums, and the Bennington Center for the Arts. Jim has been the subject of feature articles in various magazines, including Plein Air, Wildlife Art, American Art Collector, and in the online publication Wildlife Art Journal. His paintings have appeared on the covers of Sanctuary, Bird Watcher's Digest, Birding World, and The Auk, professional journal of the American Ornithologist’s Union.
Jim lives with his wife Karen on the western rim of the Hudson River Valley, not far from Albany, NY. He maintains a home studio in their restored farmhouse, and enjoys the quiet and beauty of the surrounding woodlands and gardens. Their two children have recently fledged, leaving Jim and Karen to enjoy both the heartache and joys of newly empty-nesters.