Painter and sculptor James Michalopoulos was born in 1951 in Pennsylvania. His father was a prominent modernist architect, whose designs helped reshape downtown Pittsburgh. His childhood home was filled with his father’s work as well as the paintings of his uncle, the influential surrealist painter, William Baziotes.
James received a BA from Bowdoin College. After managing the Boston Food Co-op for two years he co-founded the Cambridge Cooperative, which became the largest storefront co-op in the world. On a break in Niagara Falls, James began to sketch. He has never stopped making art.
In 1981 he was drawn to New Orleans as the last bastion of hippie bohemian culture in America. He began sketching artists and musicians, houses and street corners. Fascinated with the duality of beauty and decay, the architecture of the city became his muse. Through his portraits of shotgun houses and Creole cottages, a singular style emerged. Capturing the spirit and the essence of his subject in layer upon layer of thick impasto paint, a portrait of the city appeared, brimming with color and energy. This body of work established him as the most influential living artist in the region today.
In the early 1990’s he operated a studio out of Lausanne, Switzerland, and exhibited both there and in Geneva, London and Berlin. During a trip to France in 1990, he fell in love with Provence and the Burgundy region and bought a home near Cluny. Today he divides his time between New Orleans and Burgundy. The French countryside–with its Roman era stone buildings and verdant fields–has become a large focus of his work. His artwork continues to be shown extensively in the U.S. and abroad.
Exploring his lifelong interest in science, innovation, and manufacturing, he founded Celebration Distillation in 1995. Now the oldest operating rum distillery in the continental United States, it today creates some of the country’s highest rated rums.
James worked as the Art Director for the House of Blues Productions for a period of six years. Additionally, he art directed NBC’s “In Concert” series and the Nice Jazz Festival. His sets for the House of Blues have been called some of the most influential stage sets ever designed for televised music. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival honored him as Official Artist six times, more than any other artist in the festival’s history. In the early years, his atelier printed the posters using a remarkable 36 screen hand-pulled process.
Currently his paintings and sculptures grapple with notions of elemental biological life and the evidence of cohabitation with nature.
There is a great deal of interest for me in the intersection of human activity and nature, I am attuned to the interplay. I might study a passage through the woods or the edge of a farm field. Even grass in the crack of the sidewalk. Willfully it makes its way. How tenacious, nature.
James’ artwork has been shown extensively in the U.S. and abroad. His paintings are in numerous public and corporate collections, including: Universal Studios, the Chrysler Corporation, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Chevrolet Motor Corporation, and Northwest Airlines; as well as in the collections of Bruce Willis, Jackson Browne, John Goodman, Linda Hamilton, Tony Curtis, Bonnie Raitt, Sharon Stone, Aaron Neville, Emmylou Harris, and many others.
As steward of the Michalopoulos Foundation, James supports expressiveness in architecture and affordable studio spaces for emerging artists. In addition, he remains a passionate preservationist and philanthropist, supporting historic neighborhoods and a multitude of community charities.