Artist gives insight into inspiration for his gallery

John McClanahan's collection, "The Velasco Paintings," will be opening Aug. 22 at the Martin Museum of Art. There will be an artist talk and reception Aug 24. at the Martin Museum of Art. The gallery will close Sept. 24. Photo credit: Will Barksdale

Liesje Powers | Photo Editor

John McClanahan, a former Baylor art department chair and former director of the Allbritton Art Institute, will be speaking at an opening reception for his collection at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Martin Museum of Art. The collection, named “The Velasco Paintings”, will feature his water paint works.

“[The Artist Talk] is always a great chance to get a firsthand perspective and some information about what you’re looking at on the walls,” said Allison Syltie, director of the Martin Museum of Art.

The collection includes a variety of landscapes, something that Sylties sees as a draw to many people.

“As a museum, our type of person is everybody, but we do want to entice our student body to come in so we are always looking for something that is going to touch them in a certain way,” Sylties said, “These are landscapes from Colorado, New Mexico, and things of that nature, so we are hoping that it piques the interest of maybe travelers, people who have been to those places, [or] people who enjoy watercolors.”

The museum hosts about three exhibits each semester, each lasting about six weeks. These collections can include multiple artists or a solo artist, like the McClanahan pieces.

“We do a lot of solo exhibitions that gives students an opportunity to see more of a breadth of artwork from a single artist and how they progress through their body of work,” Sytlie said.

Paul McCoy, Professor and director of the Allbritton Art Institute, is supportive of spotlighting McClanahan at the Martin Museum.

“I felt that it was important for Baylor to feature his work, to look at what he is doing and maintain that bond,” McCoy said. “But beyond that, having his work in our museum is a singularly important event because of the uniqueness and the potency of the work he does with the medium and his subject matter.”

The collection has some specific qualities that are not found in others, according to McCoy.

“This work is really significant for me because of the way he uses light and the manner in which he constructs his landscapes from both an intellectual and physiological knowledge of what he is painting, but also the emotional memory of those spaces,” McCoy said.

McCoy compares the musical form of ad libbing, or performing without preparation, to the work of McClanahan and his use of memory in his compositions.

“It often times results in the structure of the painting being altered. Sometimes in a subtle way, sometimes in a very very significant and flagrant way from the physical space. Emotional memory is as much a component in these paintings as are the actual spaces that he is painting,” McCoy said. “He is not constrained by the reality of the physical space.”

Students, whether they are studying art or not, have something to gain by looking at these works of art, according to McCoy.

“The paintings are exciting. They are immediately recognizable as landscape paintings. People who don’t feel like they know much about art but enjoy it will take comfort in being able to see things that they recognize in the work,” McCoy said. “But they are also landscapes like no one has ever seen before, so having the artist there to talk about the work will be very helpful to everyone and will add another layer of appreciation to the work.”

The paintings are made with watercolor, but not in the way they are usually seen, according to McCoy, they are used in a manner similar to oil paints.

“He is very physical with his use of the paint so these are ,yes, technically these are watercolor paintings… but they are not like watercolors anyone is familiar with,” McCoy said.

All exhibits at the Martin Museum of Art are free and open to the public, including the Artist Talk and reception for the Velasco Paintings. More information on the museum and their upcoming exhibits can be found on their webpage, as well as on their Facebook and Twitter.

“I expect we will be watching students standing in the museum, pondering those paintings throughout the entire length of the exhibition because there is so much to learn from these paintings,” McCoy said. “I’ve been working in art now… well over 50 years and I can’t stand in front of one of his paintings without seeing something I hadn’t seen before.”