James was born in Port Glasgow to a family of Clyde shipbuilders. He studied at Glasgow School of Art under Douglas Percy Bliss and David Donaldson. In 1958, he was one of 13 founders of the Glasgow Group, an artists’ cooperative which continues to this day. He was a much loved art teacher both in secondary schools and evening classes at Glasgow School of Art. He dedicated much of his life to recording the River Clyde and its industries, and his vast body of work forms a vital archive of the river. Greenock’s McLean Museum and Art Gallery held an exhibition, The Lost Clyde: The Paintings of James Watt, to celebrate his 90th birthday. Collections include those of HM The Late Queen; The Late HRH The Prince Philip; The Princess Royal; The Arts Council; the Hunterian; Glasgow Museums; Paisley Museum & Art Gallery, amongst many others.