"Art flourishes in change, it expands when its limits are limitless. The artist must remain open to its possibilities and eliminate the dispassionate. The dignity of art is not in its constants, but in the liberation of its possibilities."
-- Dan McCaw
There are always subtle, but important changes we note each time we view new paintings by the contemporary, impressionist artist, Dan McCaw.
We count on him for that.
The gallery walls at the Red Piano recently were brimming with McCaw's newest work, and his admirers moved enthusiastically through the space.
Wearing a dark jacket over a crisp white shirt, opened at the collar, McCaw's look of celebrity was unmistakable as he peered over his glasses at the catalog that accompanied "Dan McCaw: An Exhibition of New Work." There are more flecks of gray in his hair and beard, but as he began to talk about his work, he was the same, soft spoken, lively intellectual, boldly philosophical artist we have known for more than 20 years.
"You know, I always want to grow, to re-examine and to expand the boundaries in my approach to my work," said the 73-year-old artist who was just in from his Southern California home.
"You'll see that I've taken lots of steps in different directions in terms of design, shape, texture and color ... a continuation of that same kind of personal journey of discovery, gradual modification, and often, innovation, that, as you know, is and always has been important to me," he said. "But honestly, many of my friends and followers, have asked me to revisit some of the more traditional work that they count on from me. So the collection of paintings in this show really is a blend of my work -- the familiar, the more traditional, and absolutely, the cutting edge -- in all cases it is new."
Over time and from the beginning, McCaw focused his artistic outcomes on natural settings, moving toward a kind of impressionist, even expressionist, approach. Along the way, he added a figurative base. His work became more design shaped. It was still figurative, but to that he added complexities which stretched beyond the surface of the content, image or setting of his paintings toward more expressive interpretations and outcomes.
As you view the exhibit's more than 25 paintings in a variety of sizes, you'll find not an accumulation of earlier work, but a gathering of recent paintings prepared in response to and a request from many in the Lowcountry.
These recent pieces, no matter the image and format, all express everything McCaw has put in place from the beginning. They are outward and visible suggestions of all he has learned and put into practice throughout a lifetime of artistic accomplishment. They represent his expressive, visual experiences and personal observations.
Look forward to "First Sailboat," 20x24 " and in oil. The figurative work, almost referential to his iconic mothers and children at water's edge, is intensely powerful, filled with bold, textured applications of color from a different palette. Enjoy it up-close, then step back. Elements of McCaw's brush toward abstraction are compelling.
"Conversation," 48x33" in oil offers a figurative composition, placed artfully against an interior setting. Here, McCaw offers a narrative grouping, but the overall concept of pattern, design and contrast seem to outweigh any need for further visual analysis.
The masterfully crafted, deeply involving "Early Moon," demonstrates McCaw's triumph over the challenges of landscape, and much more. Mystical, laden with dramatic contrast, the impact of reflected light draws us in as we note the essential shapes and expressive content which set this piece apart.
"It was 1994, and we were Whiteside, Altermann and Morris Gallery, down on Orleans Road, when we did our first show featuring Dan McCaw's oil paintings and Glenna Goodacre's sculpture," said Ben Whiteside of the Red Piano. "... talk about an impressive opening event. What a great start for everybody's artistic futures... ."
Artist, teacher, mentor, author
"I work daily in a studio in an old section of Torrance, Calif., " said McCaw. "The 5000 foot space was an old ballet studio. Plenty of space for me, and my sons, Danny and John, both painters, too, to work, to talk, to critique, to spend important time together."
McCaw adds that while he recognizes he must certainly have played some role in the development of his sons' careers in painting, he credits them for their careful consideration of his work.
"They have encouraged me, and I am influenced by them toward exploration and curiosity. They really contribute to my change. I'm afraid I wouldn't probably do so much of it on my own."
Dan McCaw's earliest beginnings were spent in the small Irish mining town of Butte, Mont. The people of that colorful community were focused on mining copper, and he says the impact of those formative years had much to do with the shaping of his character, his curiosity and his life force.
Art training for McCaw began at the San Francisco Academy of Art University in San Francisco. From there ,he went on to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and the Bongart School of Art in Santa Monica. He was on the faculty of the Art Center College of Design for more than fifteen years.
McCaw did not limit is artistic impact to academia. During those same years, his work was the subject of more than forty solo exhibitions. He has also been the subject of numerous national and international articles.
His book -- "A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art" -- has contributed greatly to art study programs, and, as though that were not enough, The San Francisco Academy of Art University granted McCaw an Honorary Doctorate degree.
"Painting is an intimate conversation within ourselves. The canvas is like the pages of a diary, and at times the artist is willing to share this intimate conversation," McCaw said.
" What is said between the words becomes more important than the words themselves. Art at its best moves something that is indefinable within myself."