Rick McClure | Gateway to the Imagination

Rick McClure’s landscapes invite viewers to participate in the scenes

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Rick McClure, Little Italy Pioneer, oil, 18 x 24.

Rick McClure, Little Italy Pioneer, oil, 18 x 24.

This story was featured in the December 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art December 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

In his early years in high school, Rick McClure was invited by the president of a local bank to exhibit his paintings for a month. Even then McClure was known for his artistic talents in the small town of Cordell, OK, so the invitation wasn’t entirely surprising.

The budding artist chose about 10 rural scenes—country roads, weathered barns, and windmills—and soon after the show opened, McClure learned that an art collector visiting from Texas was interested in his work. He recalls meeting the Texan and asking her which painting she might want to purchase. “She looked at me, smiled, and replied, ‘All of them,’” McClure says.

Although McClure had previously sold paintings at area art festivals, this was a heady experience for a 16-year-old. “I realized I had just sold $2,500 of my art, and I was thrilled,” he says. “I announced to all my friends that I was now officially a professional artist.”

That teenage declaration turned out to be prescient. Today, McClure is a successful fine artist whose work is on display as part of the permanent collection at the Oklahoma State Capitol, and he is regularly invited to prestigious shows like the Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition. In fact, as this story was going to press, McClure’s landscape entitled ONE, TWO, THREE was on view in the annual American Impressionist Society National Juried Exhibition at Montgomery-Lee Fine Art in Park City, UT.

In some ways ONE, TWO, THREE is a quintessential McClure painting. The subject matter captures South Carolina’s Low Country, with its marshes and native palmetto trees. Although McClure considers Oklahoma his home, he has found high demand for his paintings in the Southeast. In North and South Carolina he is well known for his impressionistic takes on the region’s scenery. Wells Gallery on Kiawah Island, SC, has represented the artist for 12 years, and gallery director Emily Wagner says clients consistently remark on the calming effect and the respite that McClure’s paintings offer in their hectic lives. “When I receive a painting from Rick, I know it is going to have balance, a full range of values, a well-planned composition, harmonious colors, and all the other elements that combine to make a pleasing piece,” Wagner says. “Although he thinks about each step, his paintings never appear labored over.”

ONE, TWO, THREE also demonstrates McClure’s philosophy that less is more. McClure says he could have rendered the marsh grass with a multitude of detailed tiny strokes to convince the viewer that it is, in fact, grass. Or, as he explains to students in his workshops, he could render that same passage with the correct value and color in broad strokes with limited detail. This approach provides just enough information for people to use their imaginations to fill in the details. “The key for me is to engage the viewer but never answer all of their visual questions,” he says.

In his workshops he often contrasts the experiences of seeing a photograph by Ansel Adams and viewing a painting by Claude Monet. McClure is confident people spend more time experiencing the Monet. “The photograph answers all of their visual questions. Every leaf, rock, and twig is there in full detail,” he says. “Whereas the Monet has passages that require viewers to decide that the stroke of pigment is a tree or a bush. The Monet engages viewers to participate in the story the painter is telling.” McClure’s paintings could be described as gateways into the imagination, rendered in a style he refers to as expressive, impressionistic realism. “I try to render the subject somewhat realistically, yet my goal is to keep everything fresh,” McClure says.

McClure was born in Raton, NM, in 1954, and he maintains a special affection for painting the grandeur of the Southwest, specifically favorite locales in northern New Mexico, southern Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

As far back as he can remember, art has captivated his attention. When he was growing up in Cordell, he recalls drawing a tropical fish in crayon in third grade. Impressed, the teacher showed the artwork to his parents and encouraged them to seek private lessons for their son. McClure’s mother agreed and signed him up for classes with a local artist. Not long afterward, the teacher moved way, but not before McClure was hooked on art. “The brief exposure to the world of art and representational painting fascinated me to the point where I knew then I wanted to be a painter,” he says.

In high school McClure made a point of entering an annual art competition at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in nearby Weatherford. He frequently won the painting category, competing against other high-school artists around the state. Western artist James Reynolds (1926-2010) was one of his early art heroes. He often rushed to the library to see Reynolds’ work in each new edition of Persimmon Hill magazine, a publication of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. “I have always been fascinated by Reynolds’ ability to render a realistic scene or western story in a painterly style,” McClure says. “You can see the mark of his brush with each confident stroke. It is always what I strive to achieve from the first time I saw his paintings.”

When it came time for college, McClure, an excellent student, was awarded a scholarship to Southwestern Oklahoma State University, where he majored in fine art with a minor in art education. After graduation he decided that the most practical route to making a living was to teach art. For 27 years he taught high-school art, mainly in Oklahoma City. “I was able to demonstrate my painting skills daily to the students, which kept me sharp,” he says.

In 1993 McClure began renting studio space in downtown Oklahoma City, a sanctuary he rushed to every day after school, often working into the night. A turning point came in 1999, when he was juried into the 71st Grand National Exhibition at the venerable Salmagundi Club in New York City. The show opened doors to the professional art world, and he received numerous calls from galleries to represent him. But with a full-time day job and moonlighting after school in his studio to keep five galleries supplied, he was struggling to keep up. When McClure turned 50 in 2005, he met the formula for a retirement pension and transitioned to the life of a full-time fine artist. “I immediately built a studio behind my home and have been working there every day since,” he says.

Step inside McClure’s studio, and you find a space with warm, medium-tan walls that complement the color palette of his paintings. The room bursts with artworks in various stages of progress. A large easel sits at the south end of the studio, allowing him plenty of room to step back and view his works. An enormous mirror at the opposite end of the room allows him to see the painting he’s working on in reverse. He enjoys moving around when he paints, particularly when working on urban-scapes, which range from the quiet back alleys in Florence, Italy, to waterfront scenes in Charleston, SC.

Cityscapes appeal to him, McClure says, because of the angles, shapes, and movement. The visual elements pose a direct contrast to pure landscapes, which, in his opinion, suggest more passive, flowing shapes. “The cityscape is all about movement, hustle and bustle, and a faster pace of life. The depiction of cars, buses, and people moving about the streets among the modern buildings convey my feeling of the city. I think cityscapes fit my Type A personality. I could not imagine sitting in front of a Chinese vase or a bowl of fruit and painting it all day.”

When he is painting in the studio, McClure maintains certain rituals. For example, he enjoys playing “aggressive rock music” when he is starting a painting, but he always finishes the work to the sound of classical music. “It adheres to my approach of working from chaos to organization,” he explains. “The painting must start loosely and tighten as it nears the end.”

In the past he often brought plein-air pieces back to the studio to finish them, and he still does on occasion. But at this point in his career, studio works are his focus, and his plein-air pieces have gotten smaller and serve mainly as reference material.

When asked what he wants his work to convey to viewers, McClure replies, “I want them to experience the scene as I came upon it, whether it’s the fascination of wondering who lives in an old building, the empty Oklahoma plains, the frogs croaking in a Carolina marsh, or the sheer majesty of the Grand Tetons. My sincerest hope is that, upon introspection, the viewer will gain a greater appreciation for the beauty that is our world.”

Wells Gallery, Kiawah Island, SC; Nicole’s Studio & Art Gallery, Raleigh, NC; Reinert Fine Art, Blowing Rock, NC; Greenwich House Gallery, Cincinnati, OH; Rick McClure Studios, Oklahoma City, OK.

This story was featured in the December 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art December 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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