Meet James Brandess, Saugatuck artist

By Mary Lu Laffey

James Brandess says he teaches how to paint from observation. This often involves silencing what we think we see in order to understand what is actually there.

Holding a piece of construction paper, Brandess comments on the color of the paper, which anyone can correctly label as green. Without missing a beat, he moves the paper next to a potted fir and wonders aloud, which is truly green?

“When we are truly working from observation,” Brandess said, “we are flushing out differences and similarities.”

He calls this “painting in context.”

“For me, painting is not about matching color or making a perfect tree,” he shared with both novice and advanced students. “Most painting issues are really thinking issues.”

Yet, for a non-teacher, his year-round studio classes in Saugatuck often fill up before they are announced on his website. Ditto for the Art in the Landscape workshops he conducts for the Art on the Meadow program at the historic Ox-Bow School of Art, also in Saugatuck.

“I am a strong supporter of Ox-Bow,” Brandess said. He worked summers at Ox-Bow while studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). The SAIC enjoys a 100-plus-year history with the Ox-Bow School of Art.

It was Ox-Bow that brought Brandess to West Michigan. He now has a working studio, as well as the James Brandess Studios and Gallery, Inc., 238 Butler St., both in Saugatuck.

Brandess said he never wanted to paint like anyone else and he does not want his students to either.

“I dissuade that idea at the very beginning,” he said. “Although I like students to consider thinking, or perhaps more accurately, not thinking like me, if only for the class.” n

James Brandess Studios & Gallery, Inc.

Art on the Meadow

In the tradition of Ox-Bow and of Frederick F. Fursman, aspiring artists can gather with James Brandess to paint views of the historic Ox-Bow landscape. Participants may sign up for one or all four of the three-hour landscape painting workshops as part of the Art on the Meadow program, to be held in July and August.