Racing the light at Grand Canyon South Rim

James McGrew catches the late afternoon light on canvas while painting at Powell Point. Clara Beard/WGCN<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

James McGrew catches the late afternoon light on canvas while painting at Powell Point. Clara Beard/WGCN<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - When it comes to painting Grand Canyon landscapes, James McGrew is a popular guy.

At McGrew's first year at the Celebration of Art, a week-long outdoor artist event at the South Rim, he won the Plein Air Award and the People's Choice award, judged by public vote during the quick draw and auction.

After the September event, participating artists donate their work to the Grand Canyon Association for an exhibit at Kolb Studio. Visitors are then able to purchase the art, and the proceeds go toward a permanent art venue for prominent Grand Canyon art currently in storage.

Currently, McGrew is the exhibit's top seller. Incredibly, the Oregon-based artist who works as a seasonal ranger at Yosemite National Park, sold all his paintings in the first three days of the exhibit. He returned to the Canyon a couple weeks ago to create more pieces for the show, which runs through Jan. 20.

"The big reason is of all the significant stuff we have in the Grand Canyon collection that really should be seen by the public. That's not been able to be done right now," McGrew said. "By selling the paintings, not only is it a great opportunity to take home a momento from their trip, it helps protect the place and the history and legacy and preservation of our national parks."

McGrew worked at the Canyon for two days, and in that time, completed six sunset paintings that ranged from 20 minutes to four hours to create, for the association to display.

Because light is only consistent for one or two hours during the day, McGrew said he locks in on one aspect of the painting, and fine tunes the rest in his studio. Because he can't paint an entire painting during that timeframe, he memorizes the scene or takes pictures to reference if he's painting a larger landscape.

"When you take a picture with a camera, it records sharp detail from edge to edge and the same resolution across the plain, whereas our eyes are totally different and our brain processes it differently," McGrew said. "So when I'm painting on site, I'm able to get a wider range of dynamics, a wider range of color, a more accurate color and closer approximation to the way we actually see and perceive something. Whereas a camera just records everything."

People can see McGrew's work at Kolb Studio, located along the Rim Trail in Grand Canyon Village, 200 yards west of Bright Angel Lodge.

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