Dan McCleary: The Mentor

Veteran Los Angeles artist Dan McCleary is used to having his paintings -- which exude measured clarity and a sense of calm -- compared to those of Renaissance masters, especially to those of Piero della Francesca. As it turns out, McCleary is like a Renaissance artist in another way as well: he has been serving as a mentor to two young artists, Javier Carrillo and Emmanuel Galvez, whose works will be shown alongside his at the Craig Krull Gallery from March 9th through April 13th. McCleary's dedication to identifying, encouraging and educating a new generation of visual artists with traditional skills is yielding impressive results.

L to R: Javier Carrillo, Emmanuel Galvez and Dan McCleary at Art Division
Photo by Wayne Shimabukuro 
Javier Carrillo first met Dan about 8 years ago through an organization called "HOLA" (Heart of Los Angeles) an after school program where McCleary was teaching a drawing class. A high school student at the time, Javier didn't think of himself as an artist, but had done graffiti tagging: "It was something that I found for fun and to be cool in school," he recalls. Encouraged by Dan, Javier kept coming to class after he was told by his instructor that "he had a gift."

Carrillo then continued his art studies at Art Division, which McCleary had recently established in the Rampart District of Los Angeles, and which was specifically created to serve young people like Javier who had lost access to community-based arts programs after high school graduation. Over time Javier became the Operations Manager for Art Division, and now teaches printmaking there. His development as an artist and teacher has given Javier ambition and focus, even though it hasn't been easy for him to explain his new career to his parents and five siblings: "We came from Mexico, and they wanted me to go to school to be a doctor: something big. My family has lived in a poor community, and they didn't see art as a career. Now that I am much older they kind of get it."

Emmanuel Galvez also met Dan at HOLA, but not as a student. Galvez was serving as a drawing model and when he mentioned to Dan that it was his birthday McCleary responded by handing him a small gift: a pen. "That made an impact," Galvez recalls, "someone actually cared." Although he had drawn in middle school, when Emmanuel met Dan he had no inclination to become an artist, and was generally unsure of his future: "I didn't know where I was going, and in High School I was hanging out with the wrong people."

Before long Galvez was not only studying with McCleary, but also serving as a studio assistant. "One day I organized Dan's work and just looking at it made me want to be an artist," Galvez comments. "It was like WOW, if I could start now someday I could be like him." In 2010 Galvez also assisted Dan and Javier in working on a major commission: a set of three panels commissioned by the General Services Administration for the Federal courthouse in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Javier and Emmanuel at work on the Las Cruces mural
Photo: James Fawcett
Dan McCleary, "The Jury," 2010, 3 panels, each 8' x 14'
The Federal Courthouse, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Photo: James Fawcett
Working with Dan on the murals and since, Javier and Emmanuel have found continued motivation to develop their individual artistic practices and also developed close friendships. "Since we all worked together with Maria (Javier's wife) on the Las Cruces paintings," Emmanuel states, "we are like family."

"Dan is the big influence," Javier says, "Be a Dan McCleary." Emmanuel says of Dan: "I see him as a father, because my relationship with my dad after I graduated from high school kind of ended. You have to meet Dan to see who he really is: he is an amazing person."

Emmanuel Galvez, "Ojo de Toro y Dos Conchas," 2013, oil on linen, 14" x 18"
In the Craig Krull exhibition Emmanuel, who is now an instructor at HOLA, will be showing small still life paintings he calls "Pan Dulce." On the surface, the paintings depict the Mexican bakery goods he grew up eating, but they are more than that. "Painting is when I come from the inside," he acknowledges. With gentle humor, Emmanuel also says of his paintings that he "...purposely made them to be kind of juicy and a little sexy."

Javier Carrillo, "El Mojado," 2012, oil on paper, 24" x 36"
Javier's works are based on playing cards use in a Latin American card game called "La LoterĂ­a." The crisply rendered figures on each card are connected to personal narratives: each one tells the story of an individual's struggle to cross the US/Mexico border. "My artwork is based on my community culture, on my life experiences, and where I came from," Javier explains. "Growing up in Los Angeles, not knowing English in the beginning was a struggle. Now, in my art I can communicate how I feel in my life."

Dan McCleary, "The Maniciure," 2013, oil on canvas, 56 1/2" x 51"
When I asked Dan McCleary about his painting "The Manicure," which he was still tweaking just a few days before the Krull Gallery opening he described it in very simple terms: "I wanted to do a painting of two women in an intimate situation." He then added: "Let me know if that is enough."

Since McCleary's paintings have reached a masterful level of clarity, I think his description is more than enough. Characteristically, he had much more to say about his students than he did about himself or his own work.
Emmanuel's tenacity and diligence as a student and artist have been phenomenal to watch. He has learned not only from me but from his teachers at SMC and from his coworkers. He is thinking critically about his own artwork and the work of other artists in a very mature way. Javier has always had an incredibly sophisticated visual sense. He has also a natural ability to draw. The two are now joined by a knowledge of how to structure a painting with great intelligence and intuition.
When words like that are spoken by someone you admire, they can change your life.
Join Dan, Emmauel and Javier for a Gallery Talk on Saturday, March 16th
RSVP to info@craigkrullgallery.com by March 12

Dan McCleary "New Paintings"
Emmanuel Galvez "Pan Dulce"
Javier Carrillo "La LoterĂ­a de la Vida"
March 9 - April 13, 2013
Craig Krull Gallery
2525 Michigan Avenue, Building B-3
Santa Monica, California 90404