Sculptor leaves the big screen behind to open Whistler gallery

James Stewart’s new gallery is celebrating its opening on Dec. 11

James Stewart was at the top of his career creating visual effects for movies when he decided to give it all up and pursue sculpting full time.

Since graduating from the Vancouver Film School he had worked on The Chronicles of Narnia, Shrek 2, Harry Potter, the Order of Phoenix and District 9, which was nominated for a Best Motion Picture Oscar. That year, he was also nominated for an award from the Visual Effects Society for that film.

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“I miss the adrenaline of it,” Stewart said. “Especially as time goes on, you work more and more hours trying to perfect something. The collaborative art portion of it is quite fun. It’s addictive… The crazy part is, it’s not your work. It’s part of it, but the director is really in charge of what (you’re) doing. As a modeler, you do have this team collaborative art portion and you put lots of time into it, but it doesn’t actually fulfill you inside for the long term.”  

So, he decided to make the leap to full-time artist. Having lived all over the world — from the UK to Italy — and with a green card to the U.S., he could have moved anywhere to pursue a new artistic path. But, eventually, he settled on Vancouver.

“I could sculpt for five hours a day and then I’d get into my car and drive to Squamish and windsurf or to Whistler to mountain bike,” Stewart said. “I found myself basically commuting to all the activities I like to do.”

Last September he decided to move to Whistler full time and open his own gallery. Having shared a cabin with friends here for years, he knows the town well, but admitted that he has no idea how his large-scale pieces of people from far-flung places will fit in in a town where landscape paintings and wildlife art dominate the scene.

“Everyone’s going, ‘Whistler needs this type of art. This is unique,’” he said. “It’s all really good stuff, but I don’t know how that will translate into sales or getting the name out.”

He’s officially opening the doors to his gallery — located at 4295 Blackcomb Way, next to the Village 8 movie theatre — on Thursday (Dec. 11) with an opening reception starting at 6 p.m. He currently has 14 pieces on display, but about 20 are finished.

“The transition to come here was a big one because it meant I was full-time sculpting with no back up,” Stewart said. “The gallery route seemed logical, actually. A number of people in the area said they’d take my work. The difference is my work is not typical Whistler work. It’s got a real edge to it. But it’s very relatable. I think people look at it and are emotional about it.”

To that end, Stewart likes to travel to different parts of the world to capture an image of an “Average Joe or underdog” that represents that culture. His work is stunningly detailed — every wrinkle, vein and pleat is depicted — and lifelike; it’s as if the characters could break out of their bronze sheen and come to life at any moment. “Originally (I chose sculpture) because it was the only way I could express what I wanted to express,” he said. “I rarely use tools because I want to use my fingers. I don’t want to be a computer guy in the fine-art sense. I think it shows. I think a piece comes alive because (I use my) fingers.”

For more information on Stewart’s work visit jamesstewartsculpture.com.

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