August 28, 2017

Napa Valley Artist Dinah Cross James Taps into the Subconscious

by Latife Hayson

Dinah Cross James

After seeing one of Dinah Cross James’s bird series in black and white hanging on a friend’s wall, I felt compelled to introduce her to those of you who don’t know her or her work. Dinah lives here in Napa Valley and I have the great pleasure of enjoying her company in our weekly spin classes at Meadowood. Dinah expresses a love of movement and color, creating captivating, beautiful imagery, mostly in the abstract form.

The vibrant energy of her abstract work almost appears to leap from the canvas. The excitement she feels by working in different techniques – oil, monotype, watercolor, drawing and acrylic, is evident throughout her portfolio.

Having lived in Napa Valley for 20 years, Dinah says, “I wanted to find a small town near the Bay area, and St. Helena is perfect for me.”

Known for her spontaneity in creating most of her work, Dinah Cross James has the unique ability to tap into the subconscious. Her love of travel has also inspired many of her paintings.

She has traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America and Mexico. From her trips to Africa, Dinah developed an interest in bone imagery, and she created a series of elephant, cape buffalo and hippo skulls.

Dinah’s artistry was also inspired during the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980. The explosive energy and constant transformation of the landscape inspired her painting for years.

“Mt. St. Helens during its eruptive state was magnificent,” says Dinah. “I was drawn there because of the raw creative energy taking place in the earthly upheaval. The experience of being inside the crater manifested the essence of creativity involving landslides, fumeroles, earthquakes and sudden explosive movement.”

A graduate of Mills College, Dinah’s work has been admired throughout the country for more than three decades. Her work has appeared in galleries, public and private collections, national magazine covers, and books.

In the early stages of her career she was a fashion illustrator in Oregon and has produced illustrations for Reader’s Digest, Sunset Magazine and children’s books. Although the majority of Dinah’s work is abstract, a continuous theme of her painting life has been country landscapes.

Dinah has also suffered tremendous loss. In 1990, she lost her only child, Natalia (Tali) in a Berkeley fire. Tali was a sophomore at U.C. Berkeley. This grievous period of Dinah’s life, she says, was underwritten in several of her paintings.

Dinah began her Raggedy Ann series during Tali’s teen years. The sequence is a portrayal of Tali’s independent spirit and casts Raggedy Ann being blown down dark roads and flying in red and black skies.

Within one month after the loss of Tali, Dinah was back in her studio. Inspired by her daughter, Dinah’s paintings changed from the dark earth tones she’d been using for nearly 10 years to a palette filled with youthful energy and color: pinks, bright yellows, greens and turquoise hues.

Nine months prior to Tali’s death, Dinah began a series of birds, symbolizing her daughter.

“The meaning of birds is spiritual freedom,” explains Dinah. “Tali was free.”

Dinah produced a book about her art and the story behind it, called, “Journeys – the Art of Dinah Cross James.” “I couldn’t have survived the loss of my daughter without the creative process, and I talk about this in my book.”

Dinah’s art is currently showing at Zantman Gallery in Carmel and in “Off the Wall”
gallery in Houston. She is also with Horizon Fine Arts in Jackson Hole.

Dinah is an accomplished pianist, avid tennis player, and art instructor. Solitude is very important to her. She loves to take long hikes and uses this precious time for developing new ideas.

Dinah Cross James is a fabulous local artist, and I encourage you to visit her studio here in Napa Valley. She will be more than happy to give you a tour. You can reach Dinah at 707-967-8109.

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