Denver Bar Association
September 2012
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Denver Lawyers’ Arts and Literature Contest: Painting Winner James “Jay” Breese



ames “Jay” Breese is a judge in Denver County Court and has served on the bench for 25 years. He has enjoyed painting all his life. While he did not formally study art in school, he has taken classes at the Art Student League and with many local artists over the years. His work has been featured in galleries in Georgetown, Evergreen, Estes Park, and Denver. Breese said he enjoys painting with watercolors for their “spontaneity and freshness,” and his paintings are largely based on the photos he takes of the spectacular scenery he enjoys while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and other Colorado areas. On discussing his passion for art, Breese said, “Like any good pastime, art takes me away from my regular work. It is like a vacation that refreshes and rejuvenates me.”



Q&A with Painting Winner James “Jay” Breese

Tell us more about your work. What was the inspiration? What techniques did you draw on? What do you like about this work?

This is a transparent watercolor painting. Chasm Falls is one of many spectacular waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. I paint many of my paintings from photos I took while hiking in the area. I try to balance the painting with warms and cools and darks and lights. I also like a clean and clear look. Water is hard to paint, but I think I did a little better on this painting. I like the way there is a hint of mist and I tried to capture the cool, swirling waters below the falls.

How did you become interested in art? What do you enjoy most about being a artist?

I became interested in art as a boy after I had lessons with a local artist in my hometown.  Watching him paint seemed to be absolute magic.

Though watercolors are not as popular in Colorado as oils, I especially like watercolor with its spontaneity and freshness.  I primarily paint landscapes, particularly in RMNP.  Like any good pastime, art takes me away from my regular work. It is like a vacation that refreshes and rejuvenates me. 

Why did you become a lawyer? What do you enjoy most about the profession?

I became a lawyer motivated to “save the world” and help the poor and powerless. At that time it seemed everything could be improved through litigation. I began my legal career doing legal aid in rural Maine. I most enjoy helping people with the challenges they face.

Art and lawyering seem to draw on very different skills and different parts of the brain. How do you think being a lawyer helps your art, or vice versa?

Being a lawyer means being disciplined and thoughtful, being able to see things from all perspectives.  That probably keeps me going in my art. Being able to create something  peaceful and beautiful in my art is a good offset to all the turmoil and difficulties I see every day in court.

Tell us briefly about your background as an artist and as an attorney.

After my responsibilities to my family, I am most dedicated and proud of my work as a judge. Though I love my art, it is clearly secondary and I never allow the art to interfere with my legal career.  After I came to Denver in 1973, I had my own office for over 10 years and did everything from civil rights litigation to criminal defense, domestic relations, and bankruptcies. I interrupted my practice for four years to be an associate professor within the University of Denver and University of Colorado law school clinical programs. I eventually decided to become a judge because I felt I could do a good job and be most effective in ensuring just outcomes. I have worked hard to make the legal process understandable to lay people. I still love being a judge after 25 years. 

I have never had formal art training. I have periodically taken classes at free universities, at the Art Students League and with individual artists. I have been in many juried shows including a couple of regional shows. I have been in plein air (outdoor painting) competitions and my work has been in galleries in Georgetown, Evergreen, Estes Park, and Denver.  I have also been in the Art Students League Summer Art Market several years. To eliminate the potential for conflicts, I don’t sell to lawyers. My wife, Paula, is my art business partner, and I could not do what I do without her support. Given the difficulty of making it in the art world, I am very grateful to have my day job.

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