Jim Salvati was born in 1957 in Upland, California. He grew up surfing the beaches of Southern California, the oldest of three children, in a home surrounded by art – paintings by his mother and those his father collected from a variety of artists.
Salvati, a self-proclaimed “regular guy” is deeply immersed in the beach culture where surfing competes with his love of art. Following the lead of family members, Salvati studied architecture in college, but soon discovered that was not his path and turned to drawing. Proving his artistic prowess, he graduated from the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 1982 and immediately began painting for various industries including feature film, the surf industry and advertising along with such notables as Disney and Warner Brothers. Salvati has been a prolific artist, completing works for Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Radio City Music Hall and was the master illustrator for the Harry Potter films.
He describes his style as “painterly or contemporary realism” where people are his focus in the form of their personal story. I like the connection between people and their culture,” he says, “The different emotions, gestures, moods, environments and style of people in my life, and those that I cross paths with, all become part of my storytelling.”
“Even with my Disney art, I think it’s important to show who a person or character is and … the most interesting part that is bold and has guts.” This is evident in the emotionally charged and sometimes heartbreaking scenes that Salvati chooses to depict: Bambi alone in the woods, the Huntsman with Snow White, Scar leaving Simba in the canyon – turning points that show ‘guts’ or courage.
Salvati works in oil paint using panel and, sometimes, mounted paper. He prefers layering paint to create a lot of texture, feeling that the uneven surface adds to the emotion in the story. “My paintings are extremely thick and layered and oil allows me the time I need to play with the color,” he says. His influences are Lucien Freud, Jeffrey Jones, Kent Williams, Yevse Moiseyenko, Andy Warhol, John Singer Sargent and Heinwein. “I prefer the darker side of storytelling and image making because it is more interesting than just a milk-toast style. This is how I approach my Disney Fine Art pieces as well. I choose the moodiest and edgiest figures to work on. Cult films like Alice in Wonderland are fun, Fantasia’s hallucinating imagery, and any of the evil, dark queens and princesses help to create more than just a pretty picture.”
Today Salvati lives the dream life of choice “I work doctors’ hours. If it is a good surf day, I will work really early in the morning and then surf from noon to 2 p.m. Afterward I’d go right back to painting. When there is no surfing, I will work 12 hour days, seven days a week. I am at a stage in my career where I can control my work load, keep my lifestyle intact, and hang out with my wife and kids.”
Added to the mix is Salvati’s lengthy teaching career at his alma mater, the Art Center College of Design, which began in 1985, a mere three years after he graduated. He emphasizes to his students “…You can make it in life on passion and determination.”
Salvati still lives in Southern California with his wife. They have two sons, Max and Vince, and a pair of dogs.
Biography interpreted from Art World News article by Koleen Kaffan and Disney Fine Art