If you’re into Harlequin romance novels, it’s likely you already own a piece of James Griffin’s work.
You wouldn’t guess it by looking at his paintings of pelicans and palm trees, which are on display at Dabbert Gallery in downtown Sarasota, but Griffin, 59, honed his vigorous brushwork by painting brawny machismos such as Fabio.
“Actually,” says Griffin, with a cheeky grin, “I was one of the first illustrators to use Fabio.”
For more than 32 years, he has designed romance-novel covers for some of the top book publishers in the world — HarperCollins, Random House, Viking Penguin — you name it.
“In the beginning, they’d ask me to read the manuscript and come up with a design,” Griffin says. “I’d arrange models at a studio, photograph them and come home and paint. Often, the paint was still wet when I mailed covers out for approval.”
Griffin was born in Canada and grew up in the United States, Peru, Britain and, later, Brazil. He spent much of his career working out of a New York studio, where he’d paint hectic city scenes — that is until 2006, when he and his wife moved to Sarasota.
Inspired by the area’s tropical landscape and unhurried ethos, Griffin began adding birds of paradise and laidback locals to his steamy portfolio.
“I guess I wasn’t ready to pursue fine art until I moved here,” he says. “It feels like I’ve finally got the vocabulary to paint what I’ve always wanted to paint.”
GRIFFIN’S TOP 5 PAINTERS
“He’s been an inspiration for me ever since I read The Saturday Evening Post as a kid. He knew how to capture a person’s spirit. He would nail it every time.”
“He has incredibly jazzy brushwork. It’s luscious.”
“His stuff is quality. It’s full of action and has great design.”
“I just love his sense of texture. He would paint a realistic scene, but the leaves would be one pattern and the water would be another pattern.”
John Singer Sargent
“He’d paint a woman’s gown using 4-inch strokes and just a few dabs of color. Standing back, you’d swear the gown was actual satin.”