James Clifford Maxwell is best known for his photographic gravure prints. He first delved into museum displays of space suits and rocket hardware, and exhibited in Boulder, Colorado in 1980 when photography was just beginning to be recognized as an art form.
He continued his architectural practice while focusing on architectural photography for his archives. Maxwell has since included landscapes and human-interest subjects in his fine arts portfolio.
James Clifford Maxwell was born in 1954 in Johnson City, Tennessee, to Clifford and Ruth Maxwell. Older than the typical parents with a newborn, the couple ran a start-up photo studio in their home so the family could be together. Clifford was an artist, photographer, and inventor who made delighted his young son with homemade toys. James accompanied his father in the darkroom, watching with fascination. His father’s studio became his playground, and he began using a 35mm camera and arranging studio lights at age four. Recognizing the creative talents of family members, his father encouraged the five-year-old James to paint, sculpt, and take private art lessons from his uncle, John Alan Maxwell, known for his illustration.
Maxwell received a four-year full scholarship to the liberal arts college of Hampden-Sydney, but soon discovered his calling to be an artist. He gave up the scholarship and attended the Memphis Academy of Arts, majoring in sculpture and photography. On graduation (1977) Maxwell received a commission for a bronze bas-relief portrait, while still developing his tensegrity sculptures. The pursuit of engineering for one of the tension pieces to become a public works sculpture led him to Virginia Tech’s supercomputer. There he received a scholarship and was chosen as graduate teaching assistant by the Architecture Department. This served as an incentive to start in the new graduate program. Maxwell’s architecture practice helped created the foundation for his fine art.