Meet the Artist: James C. Varnum

One of Beacon Gallery’s featured artist in “Synaesthesia: Abstract Art & Creative Writing” is James C. Varnum. Like many other artists, Varnum’s career path was not always strictly artistic.

Varnum earned a M.Ed. and became a teacher, and then later went on to earning a M.S. in communication disorders and worked as a Speech Language Pathologist. After retiring in 2011, Varnum has recently devoted his time and is now a full-time artist.

Like other artists featured in the show, Varnum creates complex abstract works. He is a self-proclaimed “experimental watercolorist,” and, although he uses the traditional medium, his approach to it is anything but that.

Varnum is fascinated by texture, color, and movement, and as a result, his paintings are a combination of those features. Working on surfaces like watercolor paper, Yupo, and Terra-skin, Varnum utilizes many different mediums to achieve his final product. To create texture, he often uses materials like plastic wrap, waxed paper, masking fluid, and spray bottles with water or alcohol. To move the pigment, he uses tools like brushes, combs, squeegees and palette knives. A signature feature of his work is the distinct black lines that lie on top of the pigment, often consisting of ink or graphite.

Awakening 20x26
James Barnum, Awakening 

Why does he draw intricate lines on top of his paintings? Varnum claims that by doing so, it promotes an interchange between him and the painting. He offers, “I realized that when I draw lines on my work, I engage in a deliberate process of emphasizing the topography of the painting…”

When viewing his work, one will notice his strategic interplay of line. Varnum admits that he consciously creates a dichotomy in each of his paintings. He delicately balances soft edges with hard edges, straight marks with curved marks, and warm tones with cool tones.

Earth Currents 14x20
James Barnum, Earth Currents

Varnum hopes that his viewers will create an association or interpretation of the painting that triggers a narrative of their own- much like the writers featured in the current show have already done. Come create a narrative of your own. “Synaesthesia: Abstract Art & Creative Writing” will run through July 29th. We hope to see you there!

Leave a Reply