By Nicole Daniel
Behind the house where he has lived with his wife for nearly 20 years, the north light shines through the floor to ceiling windows in Jim Daly’s dream studio, located in Eugene, Oregon. The natural light reveals decades of paintings hanging on the walls, countless binders of photographs used as references, bookshelves packed with biographies of his heroes from Norman Rockwell to John Singer Sargent and an ever-growing collection of props used in his paintings. The strong scent of oil paints lingers in the air from the recent completion of a painting. Like all the others, this new creation was taken from a memory of his childhood.
Father of four and grandfather of three, Daly personalizes his paintings not only with scenes from his own childhood in Oklahoma, where he was born, and in Los Angeles, where his family later moved, but also with the use of family members as the models. Each of his pieces pulls the viewer in, causing all time to stand still, with the exception of the memory that is being recreated and reenacted on the canvas. His nostalgic paintings hang in various galleries across the country, illustrate the stories of children’s books, including the best seller “What Little Boys are Made of,” and appear in art magazines, like “Art of the West.” Daly’s artistic career, however, was not easily created as he worked hard to stray from the idea of what is “artistically correct,” meaning what is expected in a painting.
In high school, Daly claims he was “a fish out of water,” painting real life as opposed to the abstracts his fellow classmates were creating and the examples his teachers were showing. In an instant, Daly’s demeanor completely changes as he reflects back on an unpleasant memory, but one he considers to be a huge influence in his life. Holding back tears, he begins to tell a story of when he took his portfolio to an art agency for feedback while attending the Art Center of Design in Los Angeles. He describes how ruthlessly honest they were and what great advice he walked away with, although crushed and heart broken on the inside. However, as he was leaving the building, one of the men chased him down and told him not to be discouraged because he is a great artist. Looking back on the memory, Daly says, “Paint what you want and you’ll find an audience.”
Coming back to the present, Daly expresses the importance of doing what you love and staying true to yourself. He chose to paint what is considered artistically incorrect at an early age and has loved every moment. Daly’s close friend of 17 years, Gary Schubert, explains, “Story telling is his major goal. He has picked a genre that is very collectable and he fully enjoys his work.” With numerous awards and ribbons hanging on the walls of his studio, Daly recalls a memory of when he was called up on stage to accept an award he worked incredibly hard for. As the audience was applauding and cheering, Daly remembers thinking, “this is it?” In that moment, Daly recalls realizing that it’s the process that counts. “The rewards are great… but everything is secondary to the process.” By ignoring those critics who wanted him to paint the stereotypical and “artistically correct” paintings, Daly managed to break the rules and make a name for himself on his own terms using his own style. He smiles with a sense of pure joy and content, nodding in agreement with his own words. He adds, “If you do it to be famous, you’re never going to get there.”
Daly’s use of paint is his way of telling stories and recreating past memories in ways that photographs or even our own memories are not capable of. He believes “Learning to paint is a tool. Having something to say as an artist is important.” The paintings that cover the walls of his studio all tell a story. One depicts a schoolteacher reading to a young boy in an empty classroom as the late afternoon sun shines through. Another illustrates the life of a boy and his companion of a dog playing in a scene all too similar to the yard that is visible through the floor to ceiling windows in Daly’s studio. Despite the many paintings hanging in the large, high ceilinged room, one in particular stands out. Hanging above the fireplace is a young, barefoot boy who’s holding a fishing pole and wearing a straw hat, patched jeans, a jean vest and a plaid flannel. The look in his eyes is that of innocence and of a life that was taken all too suddenly. The boy in the painting is Daly’s son, Jerry, who passed away at age six. The north light that shines through illuminates not only the entire studio, but also another painting that breaks all the rules.