He was always interested in painting and loved to paint. After World War Two, Avati obtained a job designing display windows at Fifth Avenue department stores in New York. But he continued to paint on the side and in 1948, impressed Kurt Enoch at New American Library, a new paperback publishing house. He was a hit from the beginning and changed the style of cover painting by the early 1950s. Among the authors he worked with included the likes of Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, J. D. Salinger, James T. Farrell, Pearl Buck, John O'Hara, Mickey Spillane, Erle Stanley Gardner, Alberto Moravia, and James Michener.
He quickly became legendary and was highly sought after. He fathered nine children through two marriages, including a son who became a well-known sculptor, James R. Avati, of Salt Lake City, Utah.
He used professional models at first but soon used friends, family and people off the streets of Red Bank, New Jersey, his home for much of his life, as models. He sought reality in his representations on canvas and real people worked for him better than professionals.
Avati eventually moved to Petaluma, California, to pursue a love interest and died (February, 2005) at age 92. He had stopped painting towards the end as he was losing his eyesight due to macular degeneration.
He has been called the "Father of Paperback Book Covers" and the "Rembrandt of Paperback Book Covers". Ironically, his own life mirrored the novels he painted.
The Paperback Art of James Avati edited by Piet Schreuders & Kenneth Fulton
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Donald M Grant (December 30, 2005)
Amazon: The Paperback Art of James Avati