Jim Oliver, one of Kentuckys most prominent wildlife artists whose work was in great demand during the 1980s and 1990s, is resurfacing after a five-year absence from the art scene. At a time of intense interest in preserving wildlife and natural habitats, Olivers re-emergence seems well timed and welcomed. He is more than just an artist he is a conservationist with a love for nature reflected in the detail and beauty of his work. Spending day after day studying his subjects in a number of settings is mandatory for Oliver, clear evidence of his creative passion and quest for perfection. How can you give life to something how can you capture it unless you really know it, says Oliver. He not only captures the images but also the souls of the animals he paints.
Born in 1939 in the rural setting of Crab Orchard in Lincoln County, Ky., Olivers passion for painting and drawing surfaced at a very early age, even before he could read and write. He had an intense love for the natural world and an unquenchable desire to capture it in his art. His family moved to Louisville when he was six-years old, and at age 10, Oliver won his first art contest with a painting on a drug store window. His involvement with the Boy Scouts opened another path to the outdoors and many awards in arts and crafts.
After his graduation from Valley High School, Olivers formal training consisted of brief stints at West Palm Beach Junior College, Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville. While in Florida, he procured a job as a scenic designer at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse. When his employer decided to send him to New York, he declined and returned to Louisville where he took a job as a land surveyor until deciding to enroll in college.
After spending a semester at WKU, he moved to Fullerton, Ca., where he worked for Angelus Pacific as a commercial designer and cartoonist. Two years later, he returned to his land-surveying job in Louisville. Then one day a stroll on Fourth Street in downtown Louisville led him to what would be a life-changing decision. A Ray Harm print of an eagle family on display in the window of W. K. Stewarts bookstore caught his eye, and instantly knew he wanted to become a wildlife artist.
In 1978, a sponsor encouraged Oliver to quit his land surveying job and paint full time, resulting in his first limited-edition print, Eastern Gray Squirrel, a 2,000 print run that quickly sold out. Over the next two decades he would paint more than 100 wildlife images for limited-edition prints that were sold all over the world.
In 1983, he opened Cedar House Gallery at Third Street and East Pages Lane and staffed it with the help of his family. Visitors often came to the gallery just to watch him at work, and many lined up on the street to get his signature on his latest limited-edition print. He married three years after opening the gallery, and purchased a home on eight acres in eastern Jefferson County. His only child, son James, was born two years after he was married.
His commissioned works include a dozen annual portraits of Brown & Williamson executives, and a portrait of the vice president of Com Air. His best-known commission was for the Kentucky Ducks Unlimited Waterfowl Committee, which garnered him praise for his depiction of American Widgeons the subject of the 1990 Kentucky Duck Stamp and Print. Articles about him surfaced in Dcor, Midwest Artist, and Wildlife Art magazines to name a few and he became an eminent name in wildlife art circles.
He was at the pinnacle of his career in 1990 when he experienced a devastating divorce that rocked his world and forced the sale of his beloved mini-farm. For the next 10 years he lived in quarters above Cedar House Gallery. With limited time for painting due to the time constraints of running the gallery, his prints sold out and his originals ended up in private collections. He sold the gallery in 2003 and seemingly disappeared from the art scene, downsizing his life to focus on the most important thing in it his artwork.
After a brief stay in Florida, Oliver returned to the Louisville area and now resides in Fischerville where he has pursued the perfection of his craft in isolation for the past three years, producing a magnificent collection unseen by the public until now.
Jim Oliver with Double Trouble photograph taken by John Foster April 2008
Artistic Specialization: World Wildlife