Born in Cowdenbeath, Fife, James studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1950 to 1956. One of the most influential painters and teachers in Scottish art in the late twentieth century, his spell as Senior Lecturer in Drawing and Painting at Glasgow lasted over twenty years. Serving from 1975 to 1996 he oversaw one of the most exciting generations of young Scottish painters in the last century. He remained as Painter in Residence until 1998. His awards for painting at the societies are too numerous to mention here. His paintings are represented in the collections of The Bank of England, BP, the Bank of Japan, Glasgow & United Distillers and the Private collections of both HRH The Prince Philip and HRH The late Queen Mother.