Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Arthur McCall


Game Warden Captures Texan Landscape with Artistic Arrests


Deep in the Southern Hill Country of Texas lays a vast plain of dawdling approach, including a town whose motto is - “The City of Live Oaks and Friendly Folks”. Arrive at Pleasanton, Texas, the city Texas artist, Arthur McCall calls home.  Retired game warden and full time fine art painter Arthur McCall represents all that is Texas. Spotlighting his love for his state of Texas; the hill country and ranch lands he once supervised as a type of Scenic Supervisor to the Majestic Missions of Central and South Texas- McCall celebrates all things he holds dear.  This incensed invigorate for his surroundings would inevitably be visual cognitive connections seen in his art and landscape paintings.

McCall, third generation San Antonio-an, boosts heritage that places his ancestry in Texas around the 1800’s and somewhere he says is between the “Cowboys and Indians who helped found these lands.” This cowboy hat wearing lawman is as stoic as one could imagine; holding true to an unbending Southern principle, a super hero stature, an uncanny charisma, and Texas nobility like all the old west lawmen were.  McCall is one artist proud to call Texas home.

Early on in his childhood, McCall can remember he always had an affinity for art and remembers drawing all the time. In high school, his mother took interest in his drawing ability and said, “One day I am going to send you to study art."  Even as a child McCall spent a lot of time outdoors, working as a Ranch Hand and in cattle pens tending to the livestock.  This would add to an already growing kinship to the Cowboy Lifestyle. After graduating High School, McCall decided to follow his mother’s advice and spent two years at a Commercial Art School. However, the War in Vietnam would prove to hamper his collegiate experience.  McCall went on to serve in Vietnam as part of the 1st Infantry Division in 1965-66. His tenure in the military would help shape the armed services career path that would put him in the environments he loved so much.

An avid outdoorsman, McCall loves any activity that takes him outside, from skiing to hunting, to fishing-if it had the great Texas sky above him; he did not hesitate. Already finding artistic inspiration from the Texas landscape, McCall only thought of himself as a hobbyist painter, never seeking to make a career out of art, even after the war. In his early career, McCall worked a variety of jobs, including a stint doing telephone line repair work for a regional Telephone Company. In the late 60’s, McCall recalls that a friend of his in Uvalde, Texas said he should check out “that game warden position" since he was already an outdoorsman and had the military training to back it up.  Liking the allure of civil duty, McCall applied.

McCall would graduate from the Texas Game Warden Training Academy in 1969 and would assumed his post in Atascosa County in 1971; staying at this locality until his retirement. Career highlights include being founding member of the Texas Game Warden Honor Guard, receiving a municipal recognition by the Texas House of Representatives for his four decades of painting and celebrating the cultural heritage of Texas, and accepting three commissions from the Annual Texas Livestock Show and Rodeo to design the coveted program covers. McCall boasts that the three paintings are still proudly hanging in the Convention Center’s Board Room.

As game warden, McCall took his love of art to his fellow wardens and would often include his drawings and sketches as posters and illustrations for visual aids in workshops and team building exercises; garnering praise from fellow officers.

Habitually, this artistic minded game warden would make his epic journey into the infinite Texas landscapes; unsure of what he would discover, but knowing for certain he would love every minute of being in the vast openness of Texas. Being game warden for McCall meant doing the one thing he loved most of all, being outdoors.  This unique position provided him an opportunity to study the vibrant colors of the vegetation, the animals and the numinous Texas sky. McCall recalls that the camera was and is his “constant companion”, something that goes with him everywhere he goes.

In the early 80’s McCall would often visit the J. R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art at North Star Mall, going in to buy frames for his landscapes.  One day, McCall, now 70 years old, remembers he went into the gallery with one of his paintings and asked the counter man how much one of his paintings would be worth.  He said, “…Oh I don’t know, maybe $300.00 to $350.00.”

“So I thought wow! At that time I was astonished my hobby could make me money”. McCall jolted.  “So I said, you mind if I bring some by for you to sell on consignment?” he added; “and they sold.”

I n 1984 Mr. Robert (Bob) Mooney of J.R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art took McCall on as an exclusive artist gallery representation.  Nurturing this special relationship McCall and Mooney cultivated a synergetic rapport that would span decades.  Even the senior Mr. (Joe) Mooney would develop a special relationship with McCall because of his familiarity with the game warden lifestyle. McCall remarks that “I don’t think I could do what I did if it wasn’t the continued support I had from the Mooney Family”…”Mr. Mooney (Joe) had several friends that were game wardens and we connected on that level, he appreciated what I did and knew of the day to day stresses of the job”. 

The stresses of being a game warden would metaphorically form the art antithesis of what Arthur McCall saw as the tremendous weight of the day job- creating paintings that would bring people, a certain “quiet and solitude”.

McCall’s eye glaze over as he talks about the day to day duties of a game warden, “applying laws and confronting people on their law breaking…It is very stressful”, he said. “In officer training you are told to find a hobby or something that can relieve your stresses”… “And I found mine in painting…I am always amazed that art can transform people so quickly.”

“One of the great things about my paintings”, McCall says, “Is that I can take people back to a memory, to a place, to a nostalgic moment in their life.”  I often hear, “Oh that looks like Grandpa’s place, or that looks like where I went hunting with my buddies.”  McCall is able to connect with his audience this way and his paintings instantly create a bond between himself and his viewers.  “I like that kind of feeling….I can bring something special and personal to people through my art”, McCall bellows. 

As J. R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art branched out into several markets to include multiple locations in San Antonio, a shop in Austin and more recently a location in Boerne, Mr. Mooney was able to expose new audiences and art collectors to McCall’s artwork.

Over the years McCall’s representation at J. R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art would allow him 2 one man exhibitions, selling out each show.  However humbling these experiences are, McCall adamantly states that, “I am my own worst critic”.  He never took the sales of these works seriously enough to have it wreak havoc on his ego, but would never lose perspective on why he continued to paint and why he was a painter; something he was- always by choice.  McCall said, “That was the reason why I never looked for any other gallery to sell my work, I never felt pressured by the gallery to make work to sell, I was never depending on it (art) to make or break my bank account or put my kids through college”.

McCall talks about how he was lucky enough to be in a position where he was interacting with the “real cowboys” on a day to day encounter, allowing him to not only work with this element of people but also befriend the owners of the ranch lands and estates who would inevitably become his collectors, friends and supporters. He lightheartedly commented, “It’s been a box-load of fun.”

McCall jokes about how art has played a role in his life, entertaining the notion that he is nothing but a retired game warden.  He says, “After all these years I still paint in my laundry room with my washer and dryer, and often go there when I don’t want to watch what my wife is watching on T.V.” “I can tell if the painting is going to be a success in the first 15 to 20 minutes of it.., if I don’t like it, it gets put in a corner and I start over.” “I can see myself painting in a rest home”, he says. “I’ll never stop, never quit”, he boosts. 

Known primarily as a Texas landscape painter, McCall will sometimes vary his subject matter in order to fully capture the true essence of the Texas lifestyle with painterly references to the blue collar Ranch-hands, artisan pottery, and an assorted array of native creatures.  When asked about his color palette, he remarks that Mother Nature is so bold and bright, and that in most cases, he has to “tone down the colors”, because the subtleness of hues in his paintings are not always there in the sky, or landscape. He reaffirms this belief with his strict observance of tones in nature saying, “The atmosphere of the October sky is best….it is more soft…because the dust in the air, I guess.”

“The Rough Side”, a painting by McCall spotlights the up-close perspective of a Texas Cowboy’s signature cowboy boot, the bootstraps and scoured saddle belts.  Playing off the various life spans of leather; the crackling of texture from sun weathered exposure to embroidered rawhide-McCall details the breaking, bending and gnarled experiences of this country lifestyle.  His first hand experiences, personal perspective and country “know how” inevitably plays a role in the aesthetic quality of his Texas signatures. “The Rough Side” is a tour de force that somehow functions within an uncanny compositional layout; one that draws your eye down the side of the leather boot, into the stirrup and up and over onto the saddle straps; easily resting on the artistically rendered animal skin. Subtle suggestive antidotes of country nostalgia are highlighted in the artist’s depiction of the essential rustic gear- a metallic glistening of the spur yoke, neck and rowels. Accenting this clanging contraption are the silveresque metal fittings on the bootstrap, the saddle belts and the harness fasteners.

The animal hide plays secondary to the centerpiece while the background is shifted to a grey/green color, minimizing its impact in the viewing approach. McCall is not hesitant to illustrate that the beast is secondary in this arrangement and all eyes are on the relations between the boot, its stirrup and toe pocket.  McCall’s deep shadows within this region echo the tight fit of the rider’s position, steadfast posture and equestrian annunciation.

A more signature piece by Arthur McCall is the painting- “Heritage in the Hills”.  On display at J. R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art in the San Antonio location, “Heritage in the Hills” exemplifies all that is McCall: the pastoral landscape, the Texas sky, and painstaking detail of vegetation to the sparse details of background elements. Broken up into the traditional foreground, middle and background, “Heritage on the Hills” composition is not unusual, but a distinctive signature of McCall’s is the ambient Texas aesthetic; while all those compositional ground facets settle in, completing a truly Texas panorama. Again scrupulous detail is paid to certain “subjects”, like the rust colored rain lines of the oxygenized metal roof of the manor.  And, painterly techniques help illustrate the rough and smooth surfaces of the rocks and boulders, while depicting the abnormalities of the shrubbery, vegetation, and landscape.

The horizon line is broken by the sweeping hills, roof pitch and jutting tree top. By painting the abode just right of center, the focal point becomes the space between the lazily living quarters and the outdoor open ended shed, with the dip of the skyline meeting in this central locale.

McCall changes his color palette when addressing the vast Texas Sky.   Swatches of pastel pinks, purples, blues and creams collide in an atmospheric epiphany of grandeur. Although the overall painting is more about the landscape qualities that McCall loves most, the skyline commands attention; reveling in the fact that it creates a realm that does indeed leave the picture plane and opens up the visual experience of viewer to a fabulous firmament haze.

Although his work might cover a broad spectrum of the Texas culture, McCall is careful not to be pegged the rabbit guy.  As seen in a good number of his paintings, McCall took to painting a small profile of a rabbit in his landscapes, a small image that people would search for, like an artistic Where’s Waldo? ™ .  “I spend hours and hours on a painting and sometimes people only want to see that damn rabbit that took me less than 2 minutes to paint.” “I don’t put it in every piece, only when I want to and when it makes sense, but this has become a trademark in a way”, he says-careful not let it become a gimmick.

In hindsight, McCall knows his age is catching up to him and remarks with a great philosophic insight, “I am just now learning how to do this, and its time to quit.” Reflecting on his career as a fine art painter, his stoic demeanor is capsulated in the statement, “You get tired but you don’t get tired of it.” 

-Gabriel Diego Delgado








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