James Vann: Jazzy Illusions

By the Dock of the Bay by James Vann

By the Dock of the Bay by James Vann

James Vann, clearly recalls his first work of art, a finger painting done when he was just a toddler.

“Painting that picture is my earliest recollection,” said the Valrico artist. “Just seeing the colors blend together was amazing to me. I’ve had a paintbrush or pencil inmy hand ever since.”

The award-winning artist was 10 years old when a relative gave him his first paint set.

“I loved it. It was like a refuge for me. When you’re painting, you go somewhere else, to a serene place,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.”

His artistic talent didn’t go unnoticed. In junior high school, Vann won a Keep New York City Clean contest for a poster he created.

His teachers recommended he apply for the Art & Design High School in Manhattan, and he was promptly accepted.

”There, I was exposed to a lot of different mediums including airbrush and illustration,” said Vann.

After a four-year stint in the Marine Corps, Vann continued his art career at the Albert Pels Art School in New York City on the GI bill.

After graduating, he went to work for the New York City Correction Department, at New York City’s main jail complex on Rikers Island, and the Manhattan City Jail for Men aka The Tombs.

His artistic talents were discovered and he was promoted to the position of Art Director for the, correctional system, teaching art to the inmates throughout the city. “I used to take the prisoners’ painting down to galleries in Soho to exhibit.

It wasn’t until he retired and moved to Tampa, Florida, 20 years ago that Vann was able to pursue his own artwork in earnest, again.

“Like everyone who moves to Florida, I started painting palm trees and landscapes but realized this was the kind of work everyone was doing,” he said. “I wanted my own identity so I developed what I call neo-cubism, characterized by big, bright and bold geometric shapes.

Vann’s work often incorporates his love of jazz. His influences include artists Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden & William Tolliver.

James’ works have been featured ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX News & local Print Media. He is also featured in WEDU ARTSPLUS: video.wedu.org/video/2365540957/ 

Other accomplishments:

  • Commissioned by the Hillsborough County Arts Council to paint 8 murals in East Tampa’s Police Station & Lee Davis Neighborhood Service Center.
  • James was selected “Brushstrokes Artist of the year 2010” by the Brandon Chamber League of Arts.
  • James was born in Brooklyn, NY. He graduated from the High School of Art & Design & studied fine art design at the Albert Pels School of Art, Both in NYC.
  • He is a US Marine veteran, honorably discharged.
  • James is also a retired NYC Correction Officer where he also served as the Art Director for the department of Public Affairs Unit. In that capacity, James instructed art classes to inmates in the 5 city jails & Rikers Island.
  • Vann was commissioned by the city of Tampa to design & paint 6 murals for the Tampa Police Department, District III Headquarters.
  • He also was commissioned by the city of Tampa to paint 2 Murals in the Lee Davis Neighborhood Service Center in East Tampa.
  • His artwork has been shown on NBC, CBS,ABC, Fox News plus, local newspapers Tampa Tribune, Creative Loafing, St. Petersburg Times & More. James has also been interviewed on NPR radio & StoryCorps.
  • James Artwork is in the collection of Donald Bain & acknowledged in the USA Today, Best Selling Series, “Murder She Wrote, Prescription for Murder” by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain.

At the Crossroads by James Vann     Birth of the Cool by James Vann     Untitled by James Vann