A passion for detail and a deep admiration for the artists of the past have guided international-award winning artist Ann James Massey toward mastery in “realism.”
During her career, Ann’s artwork has been shown in close to 200 shows and exhibitions from New York to California, from Texas to Chicago, from London and Paris to Mexico, from live to virtual (during the pandemic). She and/or her works have been recognized on almost 100 occasions with honors and awards and have been published in 24 magazines and 37 books. Among her memberships are The Society of Women Artists UK, The American Artists Professional League (Fellow Maxima Cum Laude), Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club (Elected Member), Allied Artists of America (Elected Member), Colored Pencil Society of America (Charter and Signature Member), United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society (Charter, Silver and awarded Life Member, past President), and Mensa.
After moving to Europe in 1994 and living among the masters’ works she has emulated, her focus sharpened. Immediately her fascination with Europe’s marriage of history and modernism became a primary factor in her subject matter with a juxtaposition of past and present. Always keeping in mind that premise, she then moved from recreating reality into creating composite scenarios that could be perceived as real. Now she is adding into that mix the element of homage for the influencing and precious factors in her life.
Despite the illusion of tight realism, Massey’s work is drawn freehand and is not created through any mechanical or reproductive means. In most cases, it would be impossible to take a photograph to recreate her mature final compositions exactly, as she intentionally distorts reality (even perspective) to create a far more pleasing (and natural) composition, just as the Old Masters have done.
Ann was born to Fred and Imogen Moore James in Evanston, Illinois, in 1951, and lived in Ohio until her family returned in 1957 to her mother’s hometown, El Paso, Texas. She was raised in an atmosphere of music, art, and books, inspiring an early appreciation and desire to excel in all the arts. By the age of 18, she found her focus when her art teacher, Helen McManus, at Irvin High School suggested that she consider a career in art. To discover if she had talent, she took 6 months of private lessons under Robert Hedley at the Art Academy of El Paso and majored in art at the University of Texas at El Paso for a year taking Drawing I and II and Design I and II. It was at the Art Academy that she discovered the Prismacolor wax pencil, which she handled as if she were painting in the Dutch tradition. Her light touch and patient layering married perfectly with the wax pencil which neither erases nor smears.
At the age of 19, she moved to San Antonio and began participating in art shows and winning awards starting with her first competition. She also developed a close relationship with The Coppini Academy of Art, becoming at that time (age 22) their first member under the age of 30. Today memberships are open to all.
In 1974, she married Joseph Zotz. They returned to El Paso where she opened her first gallery, highlighting not only local artists, but many from San Antonio and beyond. The Montwood Gallery allowed her to become involved in all aspects of art: teaching private lessons, workshops, judging, selling, and creating. In 1975, the Coppini Academy awarded her their scholarship for a session at The Ramon Froman School of Art in Cloudcroft, New Mexico where she studied live-figure painting under Ramon Froman and landscape painting under Harold Roney. As with all her continuing education, it was most useful, though still not imparting the painting techniques for which she was searching.
Left: Photo ©1974 El Paso Herald Post
Starting in 1976, Ann benefited immensely from being on and off for about 8 years a traveling companion of Gray Nicholson, a cousin of her grandmother, Imogen Leavell Moore. Trips to France, Italy, New York, San Francisco, and Santa Fe opened whole new worlds of museums, history, theater, and vistas beyond El Paso, San Antonio and Chicago to the young artist.
When she first arrived in Paris for a 3-week tour of France in 1976, she felt “This is where I belong”…though that her thought could ever come to fruition was beyond her ken. Visiting The Louvre, the Jeu de Paume, et. al. also ignited her passion to view and study artwork in person.
Receiving commissions for dozens of portraits (human, animals, and architectural), Ann continued to refine and perfect her drawing technique. However, her yearning to paint using the techniques of the Primitive Flemish and 17th Century Dutch masters prompted her to sell the gallery after 3 1/2 years and travel to Europe in search of that knowledge. Although she did not find it during her winter interim studying art history and live nude-figure painting at the Paris American Academy, she did get the benefit of studying at leisure closely the works in person that she had admired for years in books.
After returning to El Paso, Ann exhibited in regional and national shows. Having grown up in an engineering and commercial construction family and working in the industry periodically, she also designed her first house and studio in El Paso in 1978. Joseph and Ann divorced in 1981. Three years later, she married Wayne Massey and in 1986 they moved into the house and studio in Santa Teresa, New Mexico that she not only designed, but also supervised the build.
1990 proved to be a pivotal year in Ann’s artistic career as she entered her first three exhibitions in New York and won awards in all three: The American Artists Professional League, The Allied Artists of America, and The Knickerbocker Artists New York. It was also the year that ended her search for the Old Masters’ painting techniques when she placed herself for a few weeks under the tutelage of Ann Didusch Schuler at the Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1991, her first painting completed upon her return to El Paso after her sojourn at the Schuler School won the Best of Show $6,500.00 Purchase Award in a regional show in El Paso and became a part of the permanent collection of The El Paso Museum of Art. The next year she opened her second gallery, Massey Fine Arts, in Santa Teresa, New Mexico and displayed not only regional artists but also fine realist artists from across the country. In addition, she created and judged two national competitions, Realism Up Close Small Works National Exhibition (a small-format showcase) and Masters of Color Pencil National Exhibition, the first exhibition and competition in the world dedicated solely to the art of colored pencil.
However, the success and demands of the gallery allowed her no freedom to create her own art. In 1994, she closed the gallery. After Wayne and Ann divorced, she moved to Paris, France, to devote more time to her art career, growth, and opportunities. Two years later, a retrospective of her work, “From Here to There,” which covered 26 years of her drawing and painting, was held at the Chamizal National Memorial in the US.
2001 found her inducted into The El Paso Artists’ Hall of Fame at the International Museum of Art. That year and the next, her paintings won the prestigious Barbara Tate Award for an Oil Painting chosen by Barbara Tate, and she received the awards from the hand of Princess Michael of Kent at the Society of Women Artists exhibitions in London. In 2003, The Art Renewal Center chose her among their initial 34 artists selected for The Living Masters Gallery in their online museum dedicated to traditional and realist art. Ann also served as the first President and later Honorary President of The United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society from 2004 to 2010.
Following complications (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) from a minor injury to her right hand after a fall in 2011, Ann underwent extensive physical therapy 4 times a week, 3 hours each time, for about 2 years. However, she was lucky in that the syndrome went into remission after a few months, though the locked joints in her hand and wrist required that additional length of time to regain almost full mobility. She has returned to painting and drawing with the same award-winning results.
Ann and her better half since 1994, Henri Bérenger, live in Paris, and her current art studio is in Ivry-sur-Seine, though she also maintains a studio in El Paso, Texas.
Note: Bio includes excerpts from the exhibition brochure “From Here to There, A Retrospective of Drawings and Paintings by Ann James Massey, KA, CPSA” ©1996 by William Sontag, Superintendent of The Chamizal National Memorial, El Paso, Texas.
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