James Aitchison • Paintings & Drawings




Oh, Mary, Don’t You Weep, Don’t You Moan
Oil on linen
52"h x 48"w
Broken Minaret
Oil on canvas
52"h x 48"w
Dying Buzzard with a Figure After Pontormo
Oil on canvas
52"h x 48"w

Elegy for Ilya and Stolz
Oil on linen
62"h x 48"w
private collection

Encaustic and acrylic on board
23"h x 18"w x 3"d
For John Lee Hooker
Encaustic and oil on board
23"h x 18"w
Rising Crumb
Oil on linen
62"h x 48"w
Elijah and the Crow
Oil on linen
72"h x 54"w
private collection
The Desert
Acrylic and oil on ragboard
40"h x 30"w
private collection
Oil on linen
57 1/2"h x 50"w
Leda and the Swan
Oil on linen
48"h x 62"w
private collection
Ask the Three Pigs
Ink, oil, and acrylic on paper
17"h x 14"w

I grew up in the California desert, along Highway 111 in the shadow of the Santa Rosa mountains. Drawing, painting, and reading provided summer solace. Frank Buck carried me to greener mansions. T.E. Lawrence was my navigator. Alone in dark, cool corners, my imagination knew no bounds. I traveled the world. No authority needed to be consulted. My pen outfitted my canoe for trips up the Amazon. I populated my Tahitian studio with maidens with my pencil. Rimbaud visited my desert hideaway. Wild horses fought among the sand dunes. My omnium gatherum served me, feeding my imagination with forms from which I created beings. I learned to communicate with accidents, and I was able to exaggerate the real.

In 1958 I was saved from myself by my 8th grade art teacher, who guided me to a traveling van Gogh exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. The door opened on that November day -- I took my first steps on a silent journey into the fragile world of painting, and I probably came as close as I’ve ever come to intuitively understanding what it is all about.

I work principally with oil paints, though I use a wide range of materials, including acrylic, encaustic and various print techniques. My work primarily involves the figure and often contains narrative elements, though that has not always been the case. I have come to believe as Ludwig Wittgenstein has said: "the human being is the best picture of the human soul." I approach the canvas without preliminary sketches, but with paint and an intuitive ordering of what the world has dished up. I make a mark as honestly and forcefully as I can and struggle from there until a new ordering is born and the work comes right. I look for opportunities to gamble in hope of discovering a memory, a sound, a sensation, a truth. For me, painting is an act of faith.


Work in Exhibitions

  • "In the Abstract: Midcentury San Diego Painting and Sculpture," Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, CA, August-November 2015
    David Hampton, curator

  • "Naked: 20th Century Nudes from the Dijkstra Collection," Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, CA, November 2014-March 2015
    Tara Centybear, curator

  • "Totems: a Gathering of Memories, Dreams, and Wishes," Santa Ysabel Art Gallery, March-April 2015
    Annie Rowley, curator

  • "Climate Change: Mid-Century Modern La Jolla," La Jolla Historical Society, Wisteria Cottage, La Jolla, CA, May-September 2014
    David Hampton, curator

  • "Bare Naked & Nude," Noel-Baza Gallery, San Diego, CA, November-December 2010

  • Works from OMA’s Permanent Collection, Oceanside Museum of Art, Spring 2010
    Teri Sowell, curator

  • "Movers & Shakers," Art Expressions Gallery, San Diego, CA, January-February 2010

  • Palm Springs Desert Museum, Artists Council, 37th National Juried Exhibition, March-April 2006
    David Einstein, juror

  • 2005 Juried Biennial Cannon Art Gallery, Carlsbad, April-May 2005
    Hugh Davies, juror

  • "Myths and Muses, Paintings by James Aitchison," Bobbie Powell Gallery, Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA, January-March 2005
    Daniel Foster, curator

  • "Out of Oceanside," ; exhibition of work of James Aitchison, Michael Gross, and Burt Tysinger; Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, CA, July-August 2004
    Beth Smith, curator

  • "OMA Regional 3," Oceanside, CA, November 2003-January 2004
    Mark Quint (Quint Gallery), Reesy Shaw (Lux Institute), and Tina Yapelli (SDSU Gallery), jurors

  • "ACI Faculty and Friends Show," Arts College International, San Diego, CA, June-July 2003

  • James Aitchison: Selected Works, Solana Beach City Hall Gallery, February 2003

  • "It’s Hot," Tres Gallery, San Diego, December 2002-February 2003
  • "Lalla Lezli, a Celebration," Chouinard House, Pasadena, CA, November 2002

  • Southwestern College Art Gallery, Chula Vista, CA, October 2001
    Pasha Turley, curator

  • "Salon 2001," invitational group show, Arts College International, San Diego, September 2001

  • "Chouinard: a Living Legacy," Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, CA, July-August 2001
    Ed Flynn, curator

  • San Diego Art Institute, June 2000; January, March, April, October 2001; May 2002
    Rob Bell, Pasha Turley, Sandra Chanis, Robin Bright, Debra Babylon, and other jurors

  • 2001 Oceanside Museum of Art Regional Juried Exhibition, March-April 2001
    Don Bacigalupe, Erika Torri, and John Haynes, jurors

  • William D. Cannon Art Gallery 2nd Annual Juried Exhibition, November 2000
    Robert Perine and Mark-Elliott Lugo, jurors

  • "Spirit Explicit," solo exhibit, Boehm Gallery, Palomar College, San Marcos, CA, October 2000
    Viki Cole, Curator

  • "Salon 2000", invitational group show, Arts College International, San Diego, August 2000

  • California Center for the Arts COVA Exhibition, September-October 1999
    Ellen Fleurov, juror

  • James Aitchison: Selected Works, Solana Beach City Hall, CA, September 1998

  • Oceanside Museum of Art Regional Juried Exhibition, Summer 1998
    Hugh Davies, juror

  • 13th Annual All-U.S. Juried Show, Wenatchee, WA, April-May 1995

  • Athenaeum Third Annual Juried Exhibition, La Jolla, CA 1993
    Mark Quint, juror

  • "On Paper: Images & Illusions," Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, CA 1984
    Suzanne Muchnic, juror

  • New Acquisitions, Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA 1974

  • James D. Phelan Award Show, Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA 1971

  • Solo exhibit, The Little Theatre, Yellow Springs, OH 1965

  • Solo exhibit, Oten Art Gallery, Yellow Springs, OH 1964

  • Group Show, La Jolla Art Institute, La Jolla, CA 1962


Work in the Community

Published Work & Writing

  • Shamp of the City-Solo, Gordon, Jaimy (First Edition: Treacle Press, Providence, RI, 1972 and Third Edition: McPherson & Co., New York, 1993); Cover design and illustrations, with an additional illustration for the 1993 edition

  • The Fall of Poxdown, Gordon, Jaimy (Treacle Press, Providence, RI, 1973); Cover design and illustrations for poem

  • She Drove Without Stopping, Gordon, Jaimy (McPherson & Co., New York, 1993); Cover design (detail, Spirit Explicit, oil on linen, 54" x 48" 1993)

  • Chouinard, A Living Legacy, (Artra Publications, 2001); Essay,"The Middle Years, 1949-1960" for exhibit catalog



  • Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA, 1959; 1965-1966
    Studio courses in drawing, painting, and sculpture; academic courses in art history, history, and literature for an undergraduate degree program

  • ISOMATA (Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, Summer, 1958
    Harry Sternberg, Instructor

  • La Jolla Art Center, La Jolla, CA, 1961-1963
    Studies in drawing, painting, art history, and academic courses for an undergraduate degree program (La Jolla Art Center was administered by The Regents of the University of California and located in what is now the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Originally the home of Ellen Browning Scripps, the foundational structure was designed by architect Irving Gill.)


  • New York, NY (1963-1964); mentors included Michael Lekakis and Ngoot Lee
  • Yellow Springs, OH (1964-1965)
  • Frederick County, Maryland (1967-1969)
  • Photo Production Manager, Frederick News & Post, Frederick, Maryland, 1967-1969)
  • Traveled and painted in Europe while working on restoration of Ashford Castle Hotel (Cong, County Galway, Ireland), Waterville Lake Hotel (Waterville, County Kerry, Ireland), and Kilfrush House (Knocklong, County Limerick, Ireland) (1970-1980)
  • La Quinta, CA (1970-1992)
  • Oceanside, CA (1992-2007)
  • Leucadia, CA (2007- )

Contact: jaitchis@ucsd.edu

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