I recently asked Dan about his style, his working methods and his influences.
John Seed Interviews Dan McCleary
JS: How did you choose the paintings on view at USC from twenty years worth of work?
DM: There was only space in the galleries for 16 paintings. I worked closely with the curator, Ariadni Liokatis on selecting which works to show. She did an excellent job editing the paintings down to the 16 on display.
DM: In 1992 I had a job at the International School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture in Umbria, Italy. Wayne Thiebaud was on the faculty. Up until that point I was using a lot of earth colors. He introduced me to an Impressionist palette that employs pure color. It changed the way I worked.
It was also the first time I saw in person the work of Giotto, Massaccio, Piero della Francesca and other Italian painters. That exposure had a huge effect on this body of work.
I also became less reliant on working from photography and started working directly from life. I will have the model come and pose for drawings and sometimes a photograph. The models return many times and pose in sets I build in the studio.
DM: It can take up to nine months to finish a painting. I usually work on four or five painting simultaneously. I work two to three hours a day with the model and continue to work on the paintings alone. There are usually two or three models posing throughout the week.
DM: For about 3 years a student Emmanuel Galvez had a studio in my studio. I think it was helpful to him to see how a painting is put together from beginning to end. He is doing really well and is getting ready for his second exhibit at Craig Krull Gallery.
I am preparing for an exhibit at Vita Art Center in Ventura that will feature portraits of the students. Other students will work alongside me.
DM: That was one of a pair of paintings I did using a bathroom as their setting: the other is Man Weighing Himself. In many of my paintings women are doing rather androgynous activities, for example working in restaurants and I decided that I wanted to try making a really feminine painting. I talked a number of women friends as to how they did their nails. I tried to recreate that act as closely as possible. The finished painting is seen from a child's point of view, as if they are watching their sister or mother getting ready for the day or evening.
DM: I want to keep a prudent distance from the model. The people I paint are always people I have respect for. I have to have some sort of connection to them.
JS: What kind of working attitude do you bring to the studio?
DM: For me, painting is just working. It requires a lot of time alone which I enjoy.
DM: I relied heavily on memory when I did the Seven-Eleven painting. When I went back to the actual Seven-Eleven store it looked nothing the set I put together in the studio The two bathroom paintings are based on my memory of the bathroom we had when I was a child, In actuality it may have looked nothing like the one in the painting. I do remember the color -- that sort of aqua -- but I'm not sure if that color was actually there.
DM: I continue to look at Vermeer and Manet. I'm also interested Euan Uglow: I'm really curious about the way he works.
DM: I never felt like I was an "outsider" making figurative art. In the Bay Area where I lived for 6 years in the 70's and got started there is a great tradition of figurative art. I discovered David Hockney's work in the early 70's and it had a huge impact on my work I also liked the paintings of Eric Fischl and Alfred Leslie. I never felt I was an odd man out. John Sonsini and I talk to almost daily and I also keep in close contact with John Nava. I was also very close with Mark Stock, who recently passed away. I have always felt like I had a community of like-minded artists.
DM: It's a big change opening the school. I am no longer in a cloistered world: my studio is right next door to the library and there is a constant flow of people in and out of my world and my studio. I have very little privacy but it's a pleasurable trade off. Life at 62 is very different from life at 32 or 42. I feel more in charge of things. I try to work 6 days a week and take Sunday off.
Dan McCleary will be speaking on Saturday, February 14th at 1 PM
USC Fisher Museum of Art
823 Exposition Blvd. Los Angeles, 90089