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 R. Brownell McGrew  (1916 - 1994)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/Arizona/Ohio      Known for: Indian genre-portrait, landscape

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1916 (Columbus, Ohio)
1994 (Sonoita, Arizona)

New Mexico/Arizona/Ohio

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Indian genre-portrait, landscape

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Western Painters
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for highly realistic Indian portraits with rich skin tones as well as Southwest and California desert landscape paintings, R Brownell McGrew showed early art talent in his home town and birth place of Columbus, Ohio.

He moved to California with his family when he was a child and enrolled at the Otis Art Institute, studying with Ralph Holmes.  Although he preferred portrait painting, he won recognition for landscapes and was so proficient technically that he spent his last year at Otis teaching.

He worked as a commercial artist for M.G.M. and Columbia movie studios and then discovered a love for desert painting.  He was also challenged by portrait painting, especially Navajo and Hopi Indians subjects from Arizona and New Mexico.

His goal was to have a painting look wet after it was completed, and to achieve this effect, he mixed his colors to get a luminosity by mixing oil paint, linseed oil, and turpentine, but he never used glaze or lacquer.

He lived in LaQuinta from 1960-1965, when he and his wife moved to Cottonwood, AZ, and from there to Quemado, NM, 1972-84.  From 1984 until his death in 1994, they lived in Sonoita, AZ. .

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940, (Gail McGrew Eifrig, daughter of the artist)
Peggy and Harold Samuels, Contemporary Western Artists

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, IV:
A “classico-impressionist” oil painter of Southwestern figures, primarily Navajo and Hopi, Ralph Brownell McGrew, better known as R. Brownell McGrew, was born in Columbus, Ohio. Later, McGrew's family moved to California, where he worked on his art. “When our family lived on the Coachella desert in California, one of my favorite sketching spots was the lovely valley called La Quinta, about 20 miles from home. I made dozens of excursions there. After about ten years, we moved to La Quinta, and of course I never sketched there again.”

After studying for four years on a scholarship at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, California, McGrew became an instructor there while studying privately and painting society portraits in his classical style. He then moved to Palm Springs, where he lived for eighteen years. Sketching trips into the desert with fellow painter Jimmy Swinnerton led to a meeting with Shine Smith who introduced McGrew to the Navajos and Hopis. After that, McGrew had a “wealth of Indian faces stored in my sketch pads, in photographs, and most importantly, in my experience from trips. Every time I start to do a landscape, I think of an old Indian that I would rather do.

“I am an Impressionist in the classical sense. Reality comes from the suggested rather than from the detailed or the finished. My paintings are not exact copies of any of the scenes I see. I prefer the natural way of painting, and am fond of working different methods in the same canvas.”

Resource: "Contemporary Western Artists," by Peggy and Harold Samuels 1982, Judd’s Inc., Washington, D.C.

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