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From Scotland to Sag Harbor

The Artistic Journey of Jim McGarvey  

There is a wonderful Scottish quote, “If ye canna see the bright side o’ life, polish the dull side.” Sag Harbor artist Jim McGarvey still holds true to his Scottish roots, being strong, proud, practical and perhaps as his wife might say, “a bit stubborn.”

Farmers Boy

McGarvey came to the United States in 1987 to Long Island where his metal shop background led him to become a chief inspector in the manufacturing sector. In 2015 he moved east to Sag Harbor and took it as a sign when on his first day in town with his wife he went to an artist studio tour and found a fellow artist from Edinburgh. He also was able to spend time with some of his favorite East End artists’ work like Elaine de Kooning when he worked for a bit as a Gallery Guard at the Parrish Art Museum. Now he works for Sag Harbor Industries which (little known fact) produces parts for Aerospace. But painting for McGarvey keeps him grounded here on planet earth.

A passion for art dates back to his childhood in Scotland. His talent flourished in his early years in high school until he had a falling out with his art teacher. As “life stuff” happened with work and raising a family, there wasn’t time to reignite that flame, but then his children became his inspiration in the 90’s when he decided to decorate their rooms by painting murals. As he found more personal time, the canvas beckoned to him and painting became not only a dedicated hobby, but a place of personal repose from the world, “Especially as I gave up drinking,” he jokes. “When you make a mistake in a painting you can just paint over it.”


Walking into an art class in Holbrook, McGarvey met his mentor, Michael Mastropolo. “He was excellent and really brought me out,” he explains, “I was mostly doing landscapes and seascapes and he got me to start on portraits. He also taught me to slow down. I thought a work would be finished and he’d say bring it back next week, it has a ways to go yet.” 

You can see why McGarvey is now known as “The Portrait Guy,” in his exhibitions with his incredible ability to breathe life and individuality into his subjects. There is no “still” life to these lives. Often, he will work from a photograph such as by renowned photographer Steve McCurry whom he credits. One of McGarvey’s favorites is “Triple Trouble,” three brothers sitting on a bench in India, waiting apparently for the birth of their sister. 

“My influences are first and foremost everything I see, feel, and places and sights I have experienced, but I’ve always particularly loved the works of The Impressionists: Degas, Gauguin, Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne to name only a few,” he says, “In my work, I attempt to embody and capture the realism and depth of the object or figures as painted as I try to create art that speaks to the mind and the soul of the onlooker.”

McGarvey creates series from Music Legends to Screen Legends to Old Masters, sometimes reimagining the classics with a modern twist such as a pandemic portrait putting John Lennon in a mask with the twin towers gone from the skyline in “Imagine.”

And in an artistic chicken and the egg, often a beautiful frame found at a tag sale will then dictate the image to be within its borders. After all, how we frame the world dictates how we experience it. As McGarvey says, “We are here to bring each other up. We’re not going to be here forever so if you can teach someone to do the right thing it will carry on.” And find that dull side to polish.

Jim McGarvey with Triple Trouble Photo: snapjudgementphoto@instagram