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Holladay Journal

Artist of the Month Jim McGee challenges his students to find inspiration through observation

Dec 02, 2022 01:21PM ● By Collette Hayes

By Collette Hayes | [email protected]

Artist of the Month Jim McGee encourages the students he teaches to believe in themselves and to use art as a vehicle for self-expression. As an instructor at Workshop SLC to teaching students at Juan Diego Catholic High School and the Reid School, McGee challenges his students to find inspiration through quiet observation and an inquisitive mind. 

McGee realized he wanted to excel as an artist from the moment he received his undergraduate degree at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He continually pushed himself to do freelance illustrations. At the age of 23 McGee won representation as an accomplished artist by an art gallery in Philadelphia.

“When I paint, I’m searching for form created by light and shadow,” McGee said. “I’m most interested in the process of painting and experiencing the interactive process versus just making a record of something. When I approach the canvas, I like to have one foot in the abstract world but also one foot in the representational world. I feel if I’m being too literal with the visual facts, the painting loses its energy and life.”

Inspired by the urban scenes of artist Edward Hopper, McGee spent many hours sketching and painting in Philadelphia.

“I was inspired by the urban scenes of Hopper,” McGee said. “I would go to the Italian market frequently and take out my sketch book and begin to sketch. The whole environment was full of energy and life.”

Having achieved success as a gallery artist, McGee applied and was accepted into the MFA program at the University of Utah and relocated to Utah to complete his graduate degree. As a teaching assistant in the Department of Art at the University of Utah, McGee discovered his passion for teaching.

“Teaching art is a large part of my identity,” McGee said. “My students inspire me every day to create. They motivate me to keep my own artistic skills sharp. If a person is able to step up to the easel every day and create, that’s artistic success.”

After completing his graduate degree, McGee began teaching at Juan Diego Catholic High School where he taught ceramics and served as the Art Department Chairman and Director of Fine Arts. He then accepted a position as a painting instructor at Workshop SLC, an art studio in the Salt Lake Valley which hosts influential artists.

“At first teaching painting to adults and being around visiting artists from all over the world was somewhat daunting, but it has turned out to be an incredible experience. I have had the opportunity to teach adults to paint but also to take workshops from many of the incredible artists that I admire,” McGee said.

McGee also teaches art part-time at the Reid School, a local private school in Salt Lake.

“Right now, at the Reid School I’m teaching my second-graders observational drawings,” McGee said. “They are learning to observe and what it means to look closely at something.  Observation is a great life skill that I think is way undervalued.” 

Recently, McGee participated in the Plein Air Holladay art competition and received the People’s Choice award. He placed third in the Professional Artist category.

“For the past couple of years, I’ve been busy with private and public art commissions which have included landscape and portraits,” McGee said. “I feel like I’m getting dialed into my painting again and reenergized. I want to exhibit more and show my work more on the gallery scene. In January, I’m looking toward opening my own art school studio for adults and children. As Picasso has said, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one once we’ve grown old.’ My vision is to provide an art school that will meet students where they’re at.”

McGee’s artwork will be on display through the months of December and January at Holladay City Hall.

 If you would like to nominate a Holladay resident for Artist of the Month visit