Solo Exhibition, Scottsdale
Altamira Fine Art Scottsdale is pleased to welcome Washington state artist Robert McCauley, for a solo exhibition opening April 11, 2019.
Over a dozen new works will be exibited at our Scottsdale gallery, with subjects including his signature black bears as well as a variety of other animals and objects.
Most sustained bear sightings occur across a glass partition: you ensconced in your bubble of entertainment and he confined to a finely-staged cage; your perspective skewed by “safe” distance. The glass is for the bear’s protection as much as yours, you tell yourself.
Robert McCauley paints a different narrative of the interaction between animals and humans, based not on fear or conflict, but rather communion and conversation. He places the bear in the center of the composition à la 19th century portraiture—a mimesis replete with underpainting and glazing. This centrality establishes a mutual gaze thus casting the bear and you—the viewer—as coprotagonists in a story yet told. “The animals are stoic and confrontational, like Willem de Kooning’s women,” he says. “I remove all references to predator and prey. They stand eye-to-eye with the viewer, and seem to be asking, ‘Well?’”
Well, what? As the poet Billy Collins once said about McCauley’s work: his clarion call is both “literal and symbolic at the same time.” Microphones often appear, awaiting your response. So what will you do to dissolve the barrier between humans and animals, us and them, passivity and activism? Don’t abide by the diorama glass, he urges with his brushstrokes, see through it. See the animals and their reality. See our reality.
Consciousness born of getting up close with nature, as he has done: after spending 35 years leading the art department at Rockford University in Illinois, he returned to his native Washington state, building himself a compact studio in the forest behind his house. A creature of routine, he enters his studio at 4am, greeting his canvases with a hello and then a hard look: “Opening the studio door, turning on the lights and looking at the painting in process: this is the only way I have the chance to see my work as an objective critic, albeit with an element of subjectivity and authorship.”
This critical self-assessment—this daily struggle to leave assumptions behind and let the painting become what it must—elevates his work to the realm of poetry. “Words, characters come and go,” he says of his process. “I sit back and watch.”
A humility earned. A humanity conveyed—to transfixing affect. “By the time the viewer gets his or her nose up against the work, they discover the politic inherent in the painting,” he says. “My only hope is that the collective subconscious will act.”
Pre-sales available, call (480) 949-1256 or email [email protected] for more details.
Robert McCauley was born and raised in Mt. Vernon, Washington, and has been influenced by the Northwest Coast culture in his artwork. Originally an oceanography major at Western Washington University, he switched to art when he realized that oceanographers have to work in labs. Later, hearing that it was best to go east for grad school, he went all the way to eastern Washington to attend Washington State University. After getting an MFA in 1972, he settled in Illinois to teach at Rockford College. After a long and distinguished career as a professor and chairman of the art department, McCauley returned to his beloved Skagit Valley to live and work.
While McCauley’s paintings, drawings, installations and mixed media works are rooted in the tradition of 19th century American Romanticism, his narratives are contemporary, timely and relevant. Through the metaphorical juxtaposition of found objects, inscribed texts on frames and ambiguous titles, McCauley addresses a wide variety of contemporary themes and issues, including cultures in collision, environmental ethics, humankind’s impact on nature and the appropriation of nature in art.
McCauley’s paintings are sometimes ambiguous, but not so much that no meaning comes across. Returning to his childhood haunts each summer has shown the artist how much things keep changing. “The salmon streams I fished in are silted up and have no more salmon,” he says. “The Native Americans used to set a trap of chicken wire a half mile out to sea, and I would watch the salmon in the trap in awe. That’s gone. Even the huge fishing resorts are gone because the fish are gone. Clear-cutting is still common. A small greenbelt of ten feet on either side of the roads makes you think you’re looking at forest, but beyond that it’s just devastation.”
McCauley is an award-winning artist who has exhibited in museum and gallery shows nationally since 1975. His teaching experience includes Professor Emeritus at Rockford University, and Professor and Chairman, Department of Art and Art History, Rockford University. He was awarded a Fellowship in drawing from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982, and a Fellowship in Painting from the Illinois Arts Council in 1999, as well as a Research Grant, Kwakwaka’wakw Culture, Vancouver Island, Rockford College in 1994.