Mountain Man Painter — The Landscapes of Jim McNamara

Bend in the River, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery Artist Jim McNamara.

Bend in the River, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery Artist Jim McNamara.

Jim McNamara is a man who moves mountains, because that is what landscape painters do.

“Cameras can do a better job at exact duplication,” the Walla Walla fine artist says, “but one of the great advantages of being a painter is the freedom to move elements around to suit the needs of the composition. So if a tree isn’t where I want it to be, I move it.”

McNamara, whose day job until retirement 15 years ago was in public education as a school psychologist, has been drawing and painting all his life, thanks to a bunch of determined women:

Dirt Road, Big Sky by Wenaha Gallery Artist Jim McNamara

Dirt Road, Big Sky by Wenaha Gallery Artist Jim McNamara

“The nuns at St. Bridget Elementary in Omaha saw a spark in me and coaxed my parents into sending me to summer school at Joslyn Art Museum when I was barely old enough to ride the bus,”  McNamara remembers. Art classes continued in high school and college — interspersed with courses in English literature, counseling, and school psychology — and specialized workshops followed throughout adulthood, as McNamara studied under some of today’s outstanding outdoor painters: Jim Lamb, Ned Mueller, Ken Roth, Matt Smith,  John Budacin, and Ralph Oberg.

The result of all the study, eclectic interests, and hard work has been McNamara’s unique style, blending brushstrokes with realism, plein air with studio work, a painterly attitude with attention to detail:

“My colors and shapes are broadly realistic but I prefer to employ a ‘painterly’ style,” McNamara explains. “I think painting is more interesting and involving if it leaves something to the viewer’s imagination.

“I like to see brushstrokes in a finished painting: it adds a textural dimension, and makes the work more fun to look at close up.”

McNamara, who prefers oil but forays into watercolor on occasion, is a consummate landscapist, focusing on broad, sweeping images of the Pacific Northwest and West, which he captures both on scene — en plein air  — and in his studio, inside an old house, built in 1900, with the high ceilings and quantity of windows that prompt other artists to sigh with envy.

“Where I paint is what I imagine was once the master bedroom,” McNamara says. “There are paintings on the walls, as well as art books, paints and brushes set up. I have an iMac with four or five thousand images to keep my mind occupied in the winter, when it’s hard to get outside.”

Trailhead View by Wenaha Gallery artist Jim McNamara

Trailhead View by Wenaha Gallery artist Jim McNamara

With such an ideal set-up, one would think that McNamara would stay in the studio all the time, content with the absence of rain and wind, but the Great Outdoors seductively calls,  and McNamara has painted en plein air from the Rockies to the coast, covering most of the western states in his travels with his wife. His favorite painting experiences involve backpacking to some remote location, setting up his easel, and painting directly from nature.

“Painting outdoors produces the most accurate color and the most spontaneous result,” McNamara says. “But because outdoor conditions are not always ideal in the Northwest, especially in winter, I do rely on reference photographs, which are always taken by me.” Hence, the iMac, with its 5,000 images.

While in the earlier years of his full-time painting McNamara entered juried shows and competitions throughout the  region — the Wallowa Valley Festival of the Arts and the former Walla Walla Carnegie Art center, the latter where he won People’s Choice Award and sold the painting the same day — the artist now concentrates his time on as much painting as he can get in. Most of his sales generate from his home studio, The Fort Walla Walla Winery on Main Street, or Wenaha Gallery in Dayton, with one of the most pleasurably memorable sales being to a collector in France, in Walla Walla for a wine tasting — from one area known for its wines, to another.

“I think representational art always makes a statement because it regards its subject as important and significant,” McNamara reflects upon what he does. “Just the act of intensely looking at a subject for the sometimes lengthy time required to render it gives it significance.

“I believe the natural world deserves being looked at intensely and wordlessly.”

Wenaha GalleryJim McNamara is the Art Event: Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from December 16, 2014 through January 10, 2015 at Wenaha Gallery’s historic Dayton, WA location, 219 East Main Street.

Contact the gallery by phone at 800.755.2124 or e-mail Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton; phone 509.382.2124; e-mail

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.