Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Tughan, James

James Tughan


Canadian artist James Tughan currently is on the faculty of Redeemer University College (Ancaster) and Tyndale Seminary and University (Toronto) and has served on faculty of Sheridan University Institute, Oakville, Kings Christian Collegiate, Oakville, and The Kingsbridge School Of The Arts, Burlington. He is a founding member of the Semaphore Fellowship and its mentoring programs with children (Firefleyes), adolescents (Headwaters), College students (Aperture) and international groups of artists in churches (Forerunner). It is with this latter program, Forerunner, that his landmark exhibition and seminar ministry, The Dreaming Of Lions Project has travelled throughout Canada, The United States, China, Bulgaria, Colombia, England and Egypt.


James is married to social worker Donna Kaufman, and has two children Alex, 19 and Rachel 22. They live in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.  

About the materials, style and themes of my work

My work as an artist began in fine art, migrated to editorial illustration and back again and now includes education at all age levels from children to university level and other adults.

In my work as a pastel artist, my adaptation of realism is what I call “Cartographic Realism”, a marriage of aerial visual mapping, natural symbolism and a Christian theology of the person. This style of imagery respectfully draws metaphors for the seen and unseen world of spirit from the natural surface topography of the visual subject matter itself. It exploits the detail of surface patterning, texture, colour, lighting and narrative possibilities. This style infers that there is more to see than immediately meets the eye. 

In the context of the development of realism over the last 100 years, my work exists at a point of integration between regionalists and magic realists. That is because it holds onto the allusiveness of metaphor and implied story beyond the rationalism of mere photographic observation. It does this because from a Christian view of what is real I believe that there must be ways to infer layers of reality from worlds we cannot see but know to be real; worlds of psychology, spirit, dream and relationship. The trick is to do so retaining an element of mystery and subtlety that does no disrespect to the viewer or to the beauty or organic information on its own terms. 

I work almost exclusively in drawing with pastels, because of the incredible flexibility of the medium and its ability to convey rich detail, colour and finely graduated tonalities. 

“The extraordinary drawings of Oakville artist James Tughan can be appreciated by everyone, from the most sophisticated aesthete to those with less experience with visual art. The subtlety of design and sumptuous execution seduces the eye and then dignifies the mind. His artwork elevates both his subject matter and most importantly its viewer.” David Saltmarche  

What do I want to achieve with my work? What do I see as my challenge(s)?

After having spent a large portion of the last 10 years working as an art educator, I have recently returned to my roots in drawing surfaces from the Canadian wilderness. I am working on an exhibition in the summer of 2014, called TRIAGE. This is a body of work in pastel drawing that is my way of finding solace in a part of our country that I grew up with, a part of the world that is endlessly rich in surface aesthetics. It is called TRIAGE, because it has been a means for me to deal with the estrangement from my son and his violent addictions that my wife and I were forced to live through as real emotional trauma. 

What I have introduced to these realist field studies is the element of implanted metaphor; in this case the use of stones, string (and insects) used as orienteering location markers left for rescue searchers. In wilderness survival training in our Northern bush, they serve a vital purpose. In this project they also allude in very subtle ways to certain relationships. I use them and certain designed arrangements to honour friends who stood with us, when others did not, and to comment on those who ignored us when they could have helped. 

The whole body of work leads to drawings that will in a very subtle manner, unique to this natural iconography, lead to a reference to the faithfulness of our God in the midst of trial, a journey in which the relationship against all appearances to the contrary cannot be broken.

While this has been going on I have been, with the abundant help of some very grounded Christian artists here (The Semaphore Fellowship), founding a new art gallery in downtown HamiltonOntario. The results have been spectacularly beautiful if not overwhelming on the sales side of things. We are only 4 months old and going through all the growing pains of team building that any cooperative start-up operation encounters, but we are grateful to God for ground gained and proud of what we have done with what we have been given. 

Semaphore’s primary concern on both a regional and international level has been the emotional health of artists, the struggle for reintegration of artists with their own spiritual community and the exegesis of art imaging as language for the person of the artist. Our greatest challenge has been the sheer scale of the gulf between artists of faith and the traditional leadership of the Church in terms of the distrust exhibited and injury on both sides.  

Does my view of the world or faith affect my work? 

I see the primary context and reality of the Christian journey from a psychological and relational point of view. That is, I believe it is my communal and familial history through which God has most shaped my creative process, my language as an artist and my development in drawing, realism and cartography. I have come to love God because he has shown me respect, talking with me in my own visual language of images and has brought therapeutic healing to me out of considerable emotional damage in my youth. For me drawing is about respect and attachment to the physical world and has really become inseparable from my connection with other persons in my spiritual and cultural community in the arts. 

1. Grace, 2010, 7.5”x 7.5”, chalk pastel.  

2. Torn, 2010, 7.5”x 7.5”, chalk pastel. 

These are two of a series of 4.  

 3. Black, 2013, 10”x28”, chalk pastel.  

 4. Snagged, 2012, 10”x28”, chalk pastel. 


5. Marked, 2012, 10.5” x 10.5”, chalk pastel. One of a series of 6.