Anne Harris: "Phantasmatical: Self-Portraits" at Alexandre Gallery

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Anne Harris, "Invisible Girl," 2007, 33 1/2 x 31 inches
watercolor (verso) with watercolor, graphite and oil (recto) on frosted mylar

"I'm sort of painting myself out of a job," artist Anne Harris recently remarked to me during a telephone interview.

In truth Anne's remarkable exhibition at Alexandre Galley -- "Phantasmatical: Self-Portraits" -- will likely make her job as an artist more secure than ever. The point that she was trying to make, with a dose of humor, is that the women who populate her recent works seem to be fading towards total disappearance. The gradual evanescence of Harris's imagery is occurring as a feature of what she acknowledges is a "long standing evolution." She confides that "over the years I have become more and more interested in the the idea that I am painting a slice of air."

With that in mind, the majority of the works in the Alexandre show include the word invisible in their titles: "Invisible (Blue)," "Invisible (Pink Face)," "Invisible (Blonde)" and so on. There are oil paintings and drawings on paper in the show, and also a mixed-media work from 2007, "Invisible Girl," that was executed on both sides of a sheet of mylar. Inspired by a "sister" drawing on buff paper from 2006, Anne says that it is the starting point or "template" for the invisible series.

When I asked Harris to tell me more about "Invisible Girl" she took some time to explain both how it was made and what it evolved:
It's done on translucent mylar. I painted the back of the mylar with a pale yellow watercolor: Naples yellow. Then I drew on the front with graphite, water color and oil paint. I think of "Invisible Girl" as a drawing because the ground -- the mylar -- has a prominent, active role. The thing that makes this drawing relevant, that gave me the idea for the paintings, is that the background, the space surrounding the figure, is opaque oil paint. The figure is mainly the translucent ground. The "modeling" at the edges is actually the shadow cast on the wall behind the drawing.
Harris feels strongly that the thematic impetus and the improvisational spirit of her "invisibles" has to come from drawing. "I don't get so over-wrought and heavy handed with drawings," she explains. "I feel free to toss drawings, to throw them away. They're more open, more intuitive, pulled out of the ground, rather than layered as skin over the ground. Painting can bog me down, sometimes like a black hole; I'm trying to learn to paint the way I draw." Working to free herself up in technical terms has been a necessary ingredient that has allowed a greater range of expression and a multiplicity of new meanings to creep into Harris' imagery.
I tend, inevitably, to veer toward the grotesque, although I'm never aiming for that. Really, my best paintings seem to happen between subtlety and the grotesque. These paintings, because they're more delicately made, the touch more evident, the range of color and value extremely close, they walk a line between subtlety and intensity that is... I hope, better, more powerful, maybe more beautiful, although beauty is another topic. I realize I'm trying to make a beautiful painting of a subject many won't consider beautiful.

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Anne Harris, "Invisible (Pink Face), 2011 - 2012, oil on linen, 33 1/2 x 30 inches
 
Because the "invisibles" begin as self-portraits -- as do nearly all of Harris's works -- they certainly deal with self perception. In an essay written for the catalog that accompanies this show, Alison Ferris, curator at the Kohler Arts Center, who has followed and studied Anne's work for many years, comments that the recent paintings display "the physical and emotional consequences of menopause for middle-aged women." Harris, whose reputation as an artist was established by paintings that documented her pregnancy, is comfortable with that observation, but doesn't want it to constrain other possible meanings that her work might suggest. In a more general sense Anne's recent works explore a range of ideas about how others see us, how we feel about being seen, and how we gaze back.

"How does it feel to be stared at?" is one question that Harris has thought through quite intensely. "At puberty the awareness happens and with it comes both vulnerability and power: it is kind of awful and kind of good. It's complicated. You can't just walk down the street and be yourself. You are defined by those looking at you." When asked how the sense of being looked at connects to the theme of invisibility, Harris explained that aging -- in both positive and negative respects -- is certainly part of the mix.
"When I was younger -- and better looking -- I was much more anxious, more self conscious. Then the looks began to stop as my looks began to go, in my mid thirties, I suppose, after I had my son. I gradually realized that I was literally less potent, had less of the automatic force and impact that comes with youth, that I was disappearing and could only make myself noticed by being heard, but I was also more confident, more likely to speak up. And being invisible engages a kind of power, I could stare with impunity because no one was watching: previously, if I stared it was an invitation, and my default eye position was down. So I'm trying to paint contradictions: a visibly invisible painting, the feeling of being invisible and exposed, of being both less and more powerful."
As a technician, maturity is also serving Harris well and she has attained a genuine mastery of her materials and methods. Not surprisingly, the palette of her recent canvases has been carefully selected and adjusted to suit the nature of her imagery. Harris generally works with several whites, including Old Holland Cremnitz and Titanium, and also likes to use Williamsburg Zinc Buff: a very pale pinkish color. Raw umber, a dark warm tone, actually becomes cool when mixed with white and played off warmer earth reds and yellows. As Harris explains:
I tend to rely a lot on relative color -- "no-name" colors against "no-name" colors -- that push each other warm or cool, or colors layered over each other to create mixtures that are technically called half-tones or optical grays. The best way I can describe this is to use the analogy of blue veins as we see them through fair skin. Layers of skin lie over veins, the light passes through and bounces off, causing us to see, as blue, translucent vessels carrying dark red blood. Translucent layers of paint work this way as well.
Emotionally, technically and stylistically Harris is walking a tightrope, and she seems genuinely thrilled to be there. Describing one of the "invisibles" to me on the phone, she tells me that, "the figure might have less weight than the air: I love trying to paint dense air. The entire painting becomes the body. It is exciting to me that everything is skin and air."

Anne Harris "Phantasmatical: Self-Portraits"
April 6 through May 11, 2013
Opening Reception: Saturday, April 6, 2-4 pm
Alexandre Gallery
Fuller Building
41 East 57th Street, 13th Floor
New York, New York 10022

Dominic Cretara at the Triton Museum of Art

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Dominic Cretara, "Self-Portrait with Doll," 2011, Oil on Canvas, 36" x 24"
 
Domenic Cretara, who has served as a Professor of Art at Cal State Long Beach since 1986, is now the subject of a 20 year survey at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara. Cretara is a representational artist with a commitment to the human figure and a straightforward credo: "I paint and draw about my own life experiences as an artist and as a family man."

The catalog for his Triton exhibition divides his works into several prominent themes: Doll Paintings, Family, Gender Roles and An Italo-American Life. A narrative painter who comes from the heart, Cretara's work fuses the personal with the theatrical, and channels emotions ranging from nostalgia to tenderness to indignation. Cretara is a rarity in the world of contemporary painting: a mature representational artist who has stayed the course as the art world has hemmed and hawed.

I recently interviewed Dominic Cretara and learned more about his personal history, his themes, and his current work.

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Dominic Cretara, "Autobiography," 2011, Oil on Canvas, 54" x 84"
 
John Seed Interviews Dominic Cretara  

In 1974 a Fulbright Grant allowed you to spend a year in Florence, and you were also later able to spend time in the Padua and Cassis. How did those years in Europe shape your career as a painter?

Having grown up in an Italian-American family culture I had been inspired by Italian painting since childhood. I was an only child and often retreated to an "Italy of the mind" in my imagination. Being there was not quite what I expected. Confronting the work in person I felt that I was communicating directly with the artists, especially with Andrea del Sarto and Pontormo. There was no sense of childhood nostalgia at all. The formal, technical and content ideas were so interwoven, especially in their drawings, that all I could think of was, "I want to work with that level of complexity too." I analyzed, studied and asked the works questions unceasingly.

 Later in Padua it was Giotto (and Tintoretto in nearby Venice) that taught me about composing narratives. I also have always been deeply interested in late 19th and early 20th century painting, and Cassis (and all of southern France) really sharpened my understanding of the language of Modernism.

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Dominic Cretara, "The Artist's Family," 2006, Oil on Canvas, 46" x 62"
 
Over time, you have developed a personal style that blends Old Master and Modernist influences. Can you tell me more about some of the artists and traditions that have been most important to you?

I had known and admired the work of Raphael and Michelangelo since childhood. When I began studying art seriously in my teens I was drawn to Caravaggio and Tintoretto, not only because of the drama but also because of the simplicity and directness of their compositions. In college/art school I fell in love with Goya and French 19th century art (especially Courbet and Couture). I became inspired by Post-Impressionism (especially Cezanne and Seurat as a composer), as well as Modernism (Bonnard, Vuillard, Marquet, down to Balthus). I also discovered German Expressionism and became enthralled with the work of Kokoschka, Beckmann, and Otto Dix.

I could see that the possibility of a powerful synthesis between the great Italian tradition and Modernist pictorial language was very relevant to my individual voice as a painter. Most recently I have been inspired by the drawings of R.B. Kitaj, and the paintings of Frank Auerbach, Paula Rego, and Leon Kossoff.

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Domenic Cretara, "Going Home," 2005, Pastel and Pencil, 59" x 39"
 
How important is drawing for your work?

After forty plus years of painting I know that I am coming to a profound understanding of color. Drawing, however, has always been my great passion and I have come to believe it is synonymous with thinking. It is so powerful, varied, direct, economical and beautiful that I want to do it all the time. I love to draw.

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Dominic Cretara, "The Forgotten," (Trial of the Century Series), 2002, Mixed Media, 84" x 122"
 
Can you tell me something about the image "The Forgotten" which was part of the series you did on the O. J. Simpson murder trial?

The Forgotten was drawn a couple of years after I thought my Trial of the Century Series was finished. I found a brave gallerist, Susan Schomburg, who was willing to exhibit the series, so I did The Forgotten as a return to and a summing up of my feelings and ideas about the case. I had just received my work back from a big exhibition. The paintings were all soft-packed in cardboard - that warm golden surface is so tempting. I began to draw in charcoal and just could not stop.

It is meant as a critique of the justice system, but especially as a critical comment on the carnival-like hoopla and temporary celebrity-creating news coverage, which struck me as so awful and typical of our time. The title refers to the victims, especially Ron Goldman; but, also to the ideals of impartial justice that were thrown away. Even here I was involved with art-historical references. On the left I quoted Gustave Dore's illustration for Dante's inferno, the canto about the murderers being submerged in a river of blood with centaurs on shore shooting arrows at them if they lifted their heads above the blood. The idea that the so-called un-deconstructable concept of justice (according to Derrida's late ideas) had been thrown away, made the material of impermanent cardboard packing seem particularly appropriate.

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Dominic Cretara, "The Actor," 73" x 44", 2007, Mixed Media, 73" x 44"
 
You have been actively teaching since 1972. How have you evolved as a teacher over the years, and what changes have you noticed in your students?

I have always liked what the physicist Richard Feynman said about the connection between teaching and personal creativity. He talks about how having to think and rethink ideas in order to present them clearly to students is helpful to the teacher and pleasurable as well. He also point out that good students ask questions that the teacher wouldn't necessarily have thought of. The answers to these questions can have implications for new discoveries. In short, teaching need not detract from but can add to the creative spirit.

Many teachers today say that the advent of video games, social networking, texting, etc. have made it harder to teach distracted students, but I can't say I have noticed any real differences in how students learn. Perhaps I have been unusually fortunate, but I have always had talented, dedicated students who want to learn. I have changed as a teacher over time. I have become a clearer communicator, more tolerant of different ways of learning and painting, and much more patient.

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Dominic Cretara, "183 Webster Street," 2000, Oil on Canvas, 84" x 54"
 
What does it feel like to see twenty years of your work brought together? 

 It is highly gratifying, and a little scary. My first reaction was, "Whose work is this?" The work looks completely different in a museum setting with its high walls, beautiful lighting, and thoughtful groupings than it does in the studio. It was as if I saw my works for the first time with something like real objectivity. There are times in an artist's life when that prospect may not be comforting, but this time I felt that I had achieved something substantial. No matter what one's aesthetic predispositions, this is a body of work that says something, and says it powerfully.

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Dominic Cretara, "Woman and Baby," 2004, Oil on Canvas, 66" x 48"
 
What are you working on now? 

I have begun painting exclusively from drawings that I have done from observation of the life model. The challenge here being to invent plausible but also beautiful rich color harmonies - especially rich chromatic neutrals. My latest piece, which is just begun, is a massive contemporary altarpiece with no one seated on the deity's throne. The presence of absence, I suppose

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 Dominic Cretara, "Victor," 2011, Oil on Canvas, 60" x 72"

 When you visit contemporary art galleries are you seeing work that you like? Any names? 

I admire Jerome Witkin's work, especially his drawings. I love Paul Fenniak's paintings. The drawings of Antonio Lopez Garcia move me very deeply. I think Sigmund Abeles and Jack Beal are real contemporary masters. I also greatly admire Hanneline Rogeberg. I like work that can challenge, provoke, disturb, and yet seduce with its beauty.  

Domenic Cretara: 20 Years of Painting and Drawing
The Triton Museum of Art
1505 Warburton Ave. Santa Clara, CA 95050
February 16 through April 14, 2013

When Art Becomes a Movie Star

A friend at work caught me by the drinking fountain a few days ago and mentioned something rather surprising: "I saw one of your paintings in a movie last night." Although I was sure he must be mistaken, my co-worker persisted and told me that it was a kind of "southwest looking landscape" and that my signature appeared clearly on the screen. Since I couldn't recall painting anything too "southwest" I assumed that a lucky Arizona painter named John Sneed must have had his work featured in a recent film.

To satisfy my curiosity I went home and found the movie in question -- a 2011 independent thriller called "Leave" -- and watched it on Netflix. About three minutes into the film an old painting of mine that I hadn't seen or thought about in 30 years flashed onto the screen. The painting, titled "The Woodcutter's Song," shows an axe wedged in the stump of pine tree at the edge of a brushy, expressionistic forest à la Edvard Munch. When I painted it my intention had been to make a zen painting inspired by a Japanese scroll painting of a monk who has a moment of realization when he hears the sound of his axe chopping down a tree. There was nothing "southwest" about it.

Of course, people rarely get the same meaning out of works of art that the artist intends. I vividly remember being a fly on the wall in a Los Angeles gallery many years ago while a woman psychoanalyzed me vis-à-vis the painting: "It is a violent image that reeks of castration anxiety and murder," is roughly what I remember her saying.

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John Seed, "The Woodcutter's Song," 1983, oil on canvas, 66 x 54 inches
 
After getting over the shock of recognition, I restarted the movie and watched it beginning to end. As it turns out, "Leave" is a very powerful film about a novelist who is haunted by a terrifying dream. My painting turns up in his therapist's office, lit by a lamp that seems perfectly positioned to highlight the embarrassingly large signature that I tended to use on my early paintings. I'm thinking that the movie's art director must have agreed with the woman who found the painting anxious because the scene it appears in is quite tense. So much for "zen."

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Above: scenes from the film "Leave," 2011, courtesy of Visualeyes Productions
 
As I watched more of the film, I recognized that it had been shot in the swank loft of a downtown Los Angeles art collector who had purchased a number of my paintings in the mid-80s. I now understood how the painting had re-surfaced, but had to wonder: shouldn't I have been asked permission before the painting was used? I crowd-sourced the question to my Facebook friends, and they told me "yes." My wife also asked some online friends, and one of them sagely observed "There is a reason that paintings are blurred out in reality shows."

I did a bit of research on the internet and confirmed that I owned the copyright to my painting: even when a work is sold, its creator retains the right of reproduction. A helpful webpage provided by photosecrets.com also confirmed that the display of my painting had been "substantial," meaning that it had been shown long enough and completely enough to justify a copyright claim.

By the next morning my artist friends had left numerous anecdotes on my Facebook status, describing the screen appearances of their works of art. It was entertaining and informative to read what they had to say. "I had several paintings in a David Mamet film, 'Lipservice,' commented Maureen O'Connor, an artist based in Boston. "I was told my name would appear in the credits (no royalty). Needless to say, my name didn't appear. All I have is a copy, a friend made off HBO."

Painter Kurt Moyer had better news. "John, I had a good experience a couple of years ago renting my work for a James L Brooks movie. They paid me a percentage of retail to rent the works." Kurt later told me that he had received a weekly rental fee -- 20% of each paintings retail value during the first week of the shoot and then 10% per week after that -- and that the production company ended up purchasing one of his paintings.

Artist Mitchell Johnson told me that he has had good luck renting both paintings and reproductions of his paintings for use in TV and movies including "The Holiday" and "Crazy Stupid Love." If you happen to have seen Oprah Winfrey's recent interview of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg you saw one of Mitchell's paintings in the background. Mitchell has earned royalties not only from the use of his original works, but also by licensing high quality digital reproductions. He often works with Jennifer Long at Film Art LA a firm that rents copyright cleared reproductions of works of art for use on sets.

F. Scott Hess says he was paid well for the use -- and abuse -- of one of his works: "I had an 8 1/2 foot tall piece in Ridley Scott's 'Someone to Watch Over Me.' It was in a murder scene, filmed on the Queen Mary. And they poked a hole in it, so I got paid double to fix it."

 Jon Swihart -- a Santa Monica painter with superlative technical skills -- has often been asked to create original paintings for movies. For example, he painted a portrait of Tom Hollander, Captain Jack Sparrow's nemesis, for "Pirates of the Caribbean," and seven paintings for the slapstick comedy "Mousehunt." Jon says he has been very well paid for movie work: "Mousehunt" provided the down payment for his house. He told me on the phone that working on feature films can be intense and even terrifying, as there are deadlines to meet and big money being spent. Still, he relishes the work, and recently completed a portrait of Helena Bonham Carter -- as a ballerina -- for the soon to open film "The Lone Ranger."

Buoyed by my friends, and feeling legally prepared after a quick email consultation with an intellectual property attorney, I telephoned Visualeyes Productions in Los Angeles. I got a quick response from Bettina Tendler O'Mara, the producer of "Leave" who couldn't have been more kind and professional. We spoke on the phone the next day, and after she consulted her notes and co-producers, she promptly paid an invoice for the use of my painting.

Honestly, having my canvas show up in a thriller has been a win-win situation. Its always nice to have a bit of extra money for the summer, and having a painting in a movie provide a kind of exposure that I hadn't previously considered. Jon Swihart tells me: "More people will see your painting in a movie than will ever see it in a gallery." He has a point, and apparently Tom Hanks was one of them. Bettina Tendler O'Mara tells me that Hanks was very taken with "Leave," and that after viewing it he e-mailed her with this praise:
'Leave' is at first a haunting and fascinating puzzle of a story that grows into as touching and human a film as I've ever seen. Days later, the images and ideas of the movie hang in my head, a sure sign of a well crafted film.
I'm pleased to have contributed to movie that Tom Hanks saw and admired. I'm also very proud of my painting, the accidental 30 year old movie star.

Author's Note: California Lawyers for the Arts and the LA Mural Conservancy are presenting: 

"Fine Art in Film: Licensing and Fair Use Between Artists and Filmakers" 
Tuesday, March 26th 
7:30PM to 9PM 
Art Share LA 801 E. 4th Place 
Los Angeles, CA 90013 tickets: 
$20 online, $25 at the door 
 Register Online at: CalLawyersfortheArts.org/Calendar

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.

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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.

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Javier and Emmanuel at work on the Las Cruces mural
Photo: James Fawcett
 
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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."

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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."

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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 Lotería." 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."

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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 Lotería de la Vida"
March 9 - April 13, 2013
Craig Krull Gallery
2525 Michigan Avenue, Building B-3
Santa Monica, California 90404