Chicago-born Jim Griffiths’ interest in art goes back to his early childhood when he spent a great deal of time drawing and painting. During high school years, summers were spent taking classes at the Chicago Art Institute and the American Academy of Art. Griffiths continued his enthusiasm for art at Amherst College, graduating with a BFA in studio art. He then attended the Los Angeles Art Center College of Design, graduating with a degree in Illustration.
Returning to Chicago, Griffiths worked for an industrial arts studio but soon left as the constraints on his art were too demanding. He pursued his own career as a landscape artist but very shortly made the decision to devote himself entirely to marine art and paint the subjects of ships and sea that he had been most interested in for many years.
To many, the most remarkable aspect of Griffiths’ paintings is the fluid realism of the sea. It required many years of study and hard work to achieve the skill and artistic perception necessary to depict the depth & character of the ocean in its many moods. Over the years Griffiths has acquired a large nautical library of books, photographs, magazines, and ships’ plans that are used extensively for research and accuracy of detail in the ships he paints. Authenticity and realism are important in creating technically accurate and historically correct paintings.
Griffiths has several maritime subjects of special interest, one being the clipper ships of the second half of the 19th century, where this type of vessel was developed to its definitive form. Another area is U.S. Navy ships from the year 1898 onwards, but with emphasis on two time periods, the first from 1898 to 1909 (the era of the Spanish-American War and the peacetime Great White Fleet) and from 1940 to the present.
Quite a few of Griffiths’ commissioned works are from clients who currently are or who have served in the U.S. Navy; they wish accurate portraits of the vessel(s) they served aboard or wish the depiction of some event in the history of the ship. In this regard, in 1989 Griffiths was approached by the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) Commissioning Committee to do the official portrait of this carrier. Of great satisfaction to the artist was the fact that upon completion of the work the carrier’s captain, executive officer, and air boss closely studied the painting of the ship for errors and found none. A limited edition print was made, signed by the artist, the ship’s captain William Hayden, then-Secretary of the Navy Garret, and then-Governor of Illinois James Thompson, with the original painting being assigned aboard ship.
To commemorate the Centennial Celebration of the U.S. Navy Submarine Service (2000), the artist was invited by the U.S. Postal Service to do a series of paintings; five of the paintings would be printed as postage stamps as well as a sixth painting that would be incorporated into a specially created “Prestige Booklet” that held the stamps and encapsulated the history of the submarine. Not only did the artist have the honor of creating art for this first-of-its-kind booklet, but one of the paintings, that of the W.W. II Gato class sub, was the first double-wide stamp ever printed by the USPS.
Griffiths has also done a series of nautical paintings that were used as box top art by the Revell/Monogram Model Company. The vessels portrayed vary from sailing ships to submarines to ocean liners to super carriers. In 2003 Griffiths won the prestigious Rudolph J. Shafer Maritime Heritage Award in the International Marine Art Exhibition at the Maritime Gallery at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT
Griffiths has been a Signature Member of the American Society of Marine Artists since 1985. He has exhibited his work in nautical galleries across the country and his paintings are in many private collections as well as in the corporate collections of such companies as KraftCo Corp. of Glenview, Ill., the Ebasco Corp. of Houston, Tx., and Jones & Laughlin Steel of Pittsburgh, Pa.