Fire at the Surface: Imagery and Process in the Paintings of Ric McCauley
Gallery 209, Cape Charles, VA
In Ric McCauley’s paintings, you will find whales listening to iPods, elephants riding Ferris wheels, dogs walking on power lines, and richly textured abstract color fields resonating with vibrant energy. A surreal dreaminess permeates McCauley’s work, as well as a deep love of the natural world. McCauley studied painting at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he graduated with a BA in Fine Arts in 1993. There he studied printmaking, photography, and oil and acrylic painting. Recently McCauley recently won Best in Show at the St. Mary’s alumni exhibition (Boyden Gallery, 2014), and his work is part of several private collections.
McCauley grew up in West Virginia, swimming in creeks and sewing a garden to provide for his family’s supper table. Early on he learned how to get his hands dirty in the best possible way. He knows that an idea needs to be carefully tended if it’s to grow into a work of art. Now, as a seasonal resident of Cape Charles, sea life has recently entered his visual lexicon. His new body of work ranges from textured color fields (“Fire at the Surface”) to whimsical juxtapositions of nature and technology (“Whale Pod”).
In many ways, Ric McCauley is a process painter. He harnesses the chaos of his raw materials through will, determination, and a sense of play. It’s a delight to watch him work as he blasts tracks from his enormous music library in his Virginia studio or Cape Charles back yard. McCauley starts a canvas by first layering broad washes of acrylic color. Then he scrubs at the surface or sprays it with jets of water to remove excess paint and achieve texture. Rorschach shapes emerge. These serve as a catalyst for the dream-like imagery McCauley teases out of his projects. In “Buffalo Carnival #1”, an enormous beast of the plains carries a roller coaster on its back; in “Kiss the Sky”, a subterranean city hums beneath a melting, volcanic-orange atmosphere.
Interestingly, McCauley’s visual sense is informed by the fact that he is colorblind. He is unable to distinguish between certain shades of red and green, so you won’t typically see these colors side by side in his work. Instead, McCauley explores unusual palettes of blue and yellow, of orange-reds against stark blacks and winter whites.
His influences include Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko as well as Pop Artist Andy Warhol, whose Interview magazine was a literary and visual staple during McCauley’s formative years. Keen-eyed gallery goers will spot the influence in McCauley’s use of repeated motifs, as well as the black silhouettes that echo Warhol’s stenciled silkscreen shapes. McCauley also cites German artist Anselm Kiefer’s use of unorthodox methods and materials as an additional influence, though McCauley’s imagery tends to be more hopeful than Kiefer’s.
Is a painting like “Buffalo Carnival #1” reducing wild creatures to mere landscape? Or is it trying to remind us that the world we build our playthings on is actually animate and alive? Ric McCauley isn’t one to wags a finger. Instead, his artwork–with its fanciful shapes and colors, with its strong eye for form and balance–points toward the accord we must reach with the natural world. Deceptively playful, these paintings linger in the imagination with the power of enduring truth: they are new fables for the 21st century.
Cape Charles, VA
UPDATE: Well over half the paintings at McCauley’s May 2015 solo show at Gallery 209 were sold to collectors on the opening weekend. Nearly all the remaining paintings sold shortly thereafter. A show of new work is scheduled for 2016. Those interested in McCauley’s newest creations, or inquiring about a commission, may contact Gallery 209 or the artist directly at:
RicMcCauley [ a t ] yahoo.com
Gallery 209 (ask for Sandy)
209 Mason Ave, Cape Charles, VA 23310
“Jelly Headphones” — Detail, Ric McCauley