Art Creative 07

James Willie Duke, Jr.

December 13, 1948 ~ October 6, 2020 (age 71)


A second-generation Dallasite who traces his Texas roots to his paternal great-grandfather who settled in Terrell, and his first art inspiration to Uncle Walter Blackmon, a Dallas architect whom, as a 4 year old, he watched at his drawings board for hours, James’ hard-won career in art is a result of tremendous drive and devotion.

He got hooked on art in the 3rd grade, drew hundreds of pictures on school work tablets, got lots of ruler raps on his hands and trips to the principal as a result, but his mother’s support when she saw his first drawings (“Well, we have an artist in the family, “ she said and showed her interest in his progress daily) was his greatest inspiration. “At 10 I knew I’d be an artist. Art has been my world,” he declares.

Though James played on the basketball team from the 6th grade through high school. He was an introvert and seeking a means to make his peers like him, started dancing, created several dances that became the rage. His solos were features of every pep rally - popularity no longer a problem. Until his graduation from Nelson Ervin High in 1967 he worked part time and summers as dish washer, bus boy, doorman.

He applied for a job at the Bloom Agency and was told, “You have 3 obstacles: lack of experience and education, and you’re black.” James replied, “I can acquire the first 2; as for the last, I’ve been black all my life, so that’s no problem.” The art director responded, “Since you want to become an artist so much, “I’ll teach you myself.”

For several years he gave him assignments and critiqued them in 15-minute to 11/2-hour sessions weekly. James studied 8 to 10 hours a day, meanwhile working as shipping clerk and unloading boxcars for various firms. The turning point came the day he unloaded a ton of 50lb bags of lime. “I’m not going to do this again, “he vowed, put together a portfolio and knocked on 75 doors. WFAA TV’s opened, and after a year as an art trainee he was given a 6-week ad art scholarship at El Centro. He spent 21/2 years at the station before quitting to pain fulltime. Brookhollow National Back bought many of his watercolors, nostalgic in theme. Some months he sold $1400 worth of his output; other months were leaner. His studies at El Centro continued, but his family responsibilities mounted, so he went to work as a production artist at Taylor Publishing, moving to Lexcom Ad Agency and staff artist for Radio Shack. He joined Energy Publications Sept. 6, 1977 as presentation editor of Pipeline & Gas Journal.

“The Motorcycle Maintenance of Zen, a book I studied in literature class at El Centro led me to painting with mud, which so far as I know, is a new medium.” He is utilizing it in a series of 40 paintings that will depict the journey through hell, based on Dante’s “Inferno.”

Other interests are golf, ballet, symphony, acoustical guitar, and cooking.

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