James Dixon was born on Tory Island on June 2, 1887. His mother was a native islander and his father came from County Donegal on the Irish mainland. The meeting of James Dixon and Derek Hill is an often-repeated story, and has turned into something of a legend. One Sunday, Hill was painting outdoors as a crowd gathered to watch him work after church services. Dixon was in the crowd watching and said ‘I can do that’. So, Hill gave him some paints and some brushes which Dixon refused, as he preferred brushes made from hair of his donkey’s tail. When presented with the results, Hill was quite impressed and a lasting friendship was formed. It is assumed that this meeting in 1956 was Dixon’s first foray into painting, however there are a few works prior to this date.
The subjects of Dixon’s paintings are reflective of his life on Tory island, both in the daily activities of an islander and the objects of everyday life, rendered with meaning through his painterly vision. Raging seascapes, religious imagery, and even still life’s are all types of compositions seen in his work. Many of Dixon’s works have dates and descriptive titles that provide clues to his personal account of the subject matter.
He has been shown in numerous exhibitions, the first solo exhibition was at the New Gallery in Belfast in 1966, which was followed by exhibitions in London. Recent major shows include Two Artists: James Dixon and Alfred Wallis, which was seen at the Dublin Museum of Art and at Tate St Ives in 1999 – 2000.