Enjoy the diverse portfolio of talented artist Garry McMichael, and visit his website to see more of his work.
Do I want my art to be painterly or realistic? It’s a conundrum I try to balance everyday.
I wanted to be an artist as long as I can remember, but when I attended college I was faced with the age-old question every artist has to resolve. How am I going to earn a living? The idea of being a “starving artist” certainly didn’t appeal to me, and I didn’t see myself spending my life in a classroom teaching art. My solution, major in photography and apprentice myself to a local commercial photographer.
After 40 years of being steeped in the hyper-realistic world of commercial photography, creating ads and producing product catalogs, I now find it difficult to shift gears and create art that is painterly. I often start with the goal of making my paintings more expressive, even impressionistic, but as my art develops I keep adding more detail. Before I know it realism takes over.
For years I’ve painted with soft pastels, and to this day I’m drawn to the tactile pleasure of scumbling a pastel across paper. Not only does it look good, it feels good. At some point I wanted to create the illusion of “it’s snowing” in a painting and in the process came across a little known technique called dusting. It is a method of crumbling pastels particles onto a painting then pressing them in place. The technique can only be described as serendipitous. You never know what you will get. For a period it became an excellent technique for me to balance my realistic side and be more painterly and expressive.
About three years ago I felt I wanted to make a change in my approach to art. Despite being the president of a St. Louis pastel group (Gateway Pastel Artists) I decided to quit pastels “cold turkey” and devote one year to teach myself how to paint with oils and acrylics. The year has stretched into three and I love what I’m doing. The only downside is that the realistic side of my brain wins out more often over my urge to be painterly.
One of the things I loved best as a professional photographer was variety in my work. No two assignments were alike. Every project would have its own creative and technical issues and special needs. As soon as I completed one assignment, I was faced with new challenges on the next project. I’m addicted to variety and it has carried through to my art. Consequently, the subject matter of my art is all over the place. I like to paint still-lifes, landscapes, people and recently, my focus has shifted to cityscapes, nocturnes and dramatic weather situations.
Living in St. Louis, I have a unique opportunity. We are the city with the Great Big Arch (officially it is called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Park). It is a timeless sculpture (designed by architect Eero Saarinen over 60 years ago) on a gigantic scale with the mighty Mississippi River as its reflecting pool. The Arch has a strong influence on my photography, and it will be a major subject in my future paintings. Right now Realism is the stronger influence, but time will tell.