After spending 35 years painting the world’s ski resorts, James Niehues has assumed an unlikely mantle as one of the most widely viewed artists of the 21st century—clout he plans to use for a new purpose: protecting our public lands.
Niehues’s career capturing the ski world has recently been compiled into the award-winning coffee table book The Man Behind the Maps, which showcases 200 ski resorts around the world. Now, Niehues has turned his attention closer to home. In his new American Landscape Project, his brush strokes are focused on celebrating America’s beloved national parks and their landscapes.
For Niehues, the timing is crucial.
“Our national parks are treasures that are more important now than ever to protect,” he says. “Our forests are burning, our climate is changing. The parks are outposts and escapes from the ever-pressing demands of our busy everyday lives, a retreat that is threatened. I hope that they remain as I portray them.”
The American Landscape Project, Niehues says, was a natural next chapter after his ski resorts project.
He began developing the concept as he retired from painting ski maps, knowing that he had a bank of photos from his flights around the resorts—ones that he hoped to some day get around to painting.
Ansel Adams was a great inspiration, Niehues adds, for capturing a sense of drama, composition, and lighting. “I admire his black and white photos, his contrast and textures, and his ability to capture the dynamics and atmosphere of the scene,” Niehues says. “So, the challenge was there and I decided to concentrate on iconic scenes, the most photographed and painted views in America.” Though, of course, they’ll all be portrayed with Niehues’s unique twist.
While he’s sketched countless parks and wilderness areas already, this time Niehues is diving deeper, targeting 50 new illustrations of America’s top landscapes, many in our beloved national parks. The series begins with four Western icons: Yosemite National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. Niehues also recently returned from a photography trip to Crater Lake National Park.
But the final list isn’t set in stone. Niehues has invited the public to direct him on his artistic journey by enlisting his fans to help select the most iconic views in America.