Fred McCraw is active/lives in Missouri, Kansas. Fred McCraw is known for landscape, wall sculpture, geo-abstraction, minimalism, space images.
Biography from the Archives of askART
The following biography was submitted by the artist, May 2016.
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Fred W. McCraw was born February 7, 1932 in Barberton, Ohio—an Akron suburb. His early schooling was in Barberton, Akron and Genoa in Ohio, and in Kansas City, Missouri, where he graduated High School in 1948. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and attended the University of Kansas, Central Missouri State University and the University of Missouri at Kansas City, receiving an AB degree in English from UMKC in 1956 with majors in American Literature and Music Composition.
During the next eleven years, McCraw incorporated, launched and ran a pioneering computer time-sharing business. In 1967 he merged it into a large telephone company while staying on as President and CEO of their new subsidiary. Then he arranged in early 1968 to meet Rita and Thomas Hart Benton in their Kansas City home to buy a painting.
That meeting was fortuitous. For the next seven years both Rita and Tom guided McCraw in a casual study of art history and the business of art; the latter eventually exposing him to techniques and materials of oil painting and printmaking. But all then was academic.
Nonetheless, seeds of opportunity that gestate when neglected do grow when attended. After Benton died in early 1975, seven years of public quotes and art-related discussions in their homes, in homes of others and on river and exhibition trips, were then recorded by McCraw in manuscript form while still fresh in memory. Benton once suggested that McCraw keep a record of discourse and public events in real time. McCraw had silently ignored the suggestion while Benton lived; thinking that to make a work effort of their conversations might impose constraints that could change the character of discussions.
Though it would be seven more years before McCraw would start to paint, he did draw six ink and three pencil sketches in 1977 and 1980 respectively and one other completely finished 1980 drawing of that which would become his first oil painting more than a year later. He never thought he might successfully paint and only then—fourteen years after meeting Benton—did he feel compelled to buy a few materials and make the attempt.
His first small canvas was completed in late December 1981. Seeing merit in his tightly-detailed 9x12 painting that incorporated six miniature Taos masterworks in the image (all painted under a magnifying glass with a tiny watercolor brush), he decided at his then age 49 to make painting a full-time effort for at least a year or two. By mid-1982, he was being counseled and critiqued by a number of other artists whose work he had collected.
Chief among these was Dolya Goutman, Chair of the painting department at the Moore College of Art and Design in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Though McCraw was largely self-taught, he also gained insights into techniques of draughtsmanship from Michigan artist Reynold Weidenaar, a former instructor at the Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids, and also picked up pointers from Linister (G.L. Smith) and others then and later.
Aware that artists generally are poor record keepers, McCraw resolved to describe in a journal each painting’s development and any derivative discoveries made while painting it. He sought to document both his development as an artist and the painting’s history. He was diligent in keeping this record through five years of full-time painting. The journal describes an evolution of styles that makes clear how these together led in two years to a mature largely-geometric style that remained more or less a fixture in his art thereafter.
But in the late 1980s McCraw permanently interrupted what seemed a promising painting career to write articles, editorials, essays and letters in defense of Benton’s persona and art—protecting an investment in both, but also in satisfaction of a debt of gratitude owed the artist, his wife and, in McCraw’s view, their family. That work persists. Initially, and until the death of the Individual Trustee, Lyman Field (in 1999), all was in concert with similarly-motivated Trustees of the Benton Trusts—not at their behest, of course—but with their co-operation and encouragement.
Both McCraw and the Trustees had seen in a 1987 Nelson-Atkins Benton Symposium that Benton’s home-town museum likely—albeit all but unimaginable—would be negatively presenting his work and history in what proved to be a distasteful 1989 centennial exhibition. Surprisingly, the symposium was attended by famed New York critic Clement Greenberg, an arch-enemy of Benton, and his fellow critic and friend, Hilton Kramer, who, more surprisingly, appeared among scholars as a program Presenter. Ironically, both the symposium and the exhibition had been personally pre-financed by Benton’s Trustees and other of his friends. In its first venue (in Kansas City) the exhibit was deemed by some local critics and others to be a mockery of both Benton and his art.
With immediate interventions by principal Trustees of the Benton Trusts and due to heroic professionalism by the Detroit Institute of Arts’ then curator of American art, Nancy Rivard Shaw, there were major changes at each of the exhibition’s three subsequent venues (Detroit, New York-Whitney and Los Angeles-LACMA). A fire-storm of controversy engendered by a temporary denigration of the artist and his art in Kansas City remarkably caused the show to assume a frankensteinian life of its own. That, in turn, accelerated a more-than-justified rising interest in Benton and his art. To the amazement and probable consternation of many, that seemingly has brought Benton by a circuitous route to the honor and respect he clearly deserved all along.
For McCraw, writing has been an incredibly long digression that effectively ended what had seemed a promising new career as an artist. In February 1985 two of his 1984 paintings were juried into a Kansas Arts Commission exhibition at the Mulvane Art Center in Topeka, KS. Another of his 1984 paintings was selected as a semi-finalist a few months later in a four-state competition staged by the Nelson-Atkins Museum. The artist was then being offered one-person museum and gallery shows, which he declined. But he shared his art with artist friends that then incorporated some of his discoveries in their art.
Though his first works showed Taos School and Benton influences, his art evolved steadily through seven distinct styles in two-years. This brought him by late 1983 to a unique palette and to what he later discovered, at a 1989 Tate Gallery Deconstruction Symposium in London, had been a deconstructionist approach to his evolving art.
Most of McCraw's mature images derive from previous ones. Each is a deconstruction of an earlier image that was itself abstracted from one still earlier. Though often not symmetrical, McCraw's images frequently have no clearly defined top and bottom so that they can be displayed in any of their four rotations, or, in a few cases, can be hung at an angle with only a corner at the top. Virtually all carry both technical and representational titles (sometimes several of the latter).
His late 1981 first oil painting unexpectedly had morphed (by no prior intent) into one-third of a triptych, When displayed with his 2nd and 3rd canvases (incorporating two thin wall strips into the overall design), the three together became a bona fide wall sculpture (also not conceptualized as such before beginning to paint). It is interesting to note that these very first three paintings strongly anticipated the geometric abstractions that would dominate his mature work when it appeared more than two years later in early 1984.
Six months before that breakthrough, in August 1983, McCraw began working with the full color spectrum as a subject in his paintings. He later discovered Ellsworth Kelly's art had turned to a similar interest in spectrum subjects fifteen or more years earlier. From quick studies of Kelly's theories, McCraw then returned to the notion of wall sculptures incorporating the surrounding and intervening wall into minimalist images.
McCraw soon after employed pieces of the color spectrum as individual and collective wall sculpture panels equally spaced on a wall—as minimalist wall offerings—which he later learned Kelly also was doing with wall sculptures at about that same time. Of course, distinctive palettes of each artist distinguish each from the other at a glance.
A recurring theme in McCraw's art is a vast open Colorado plateau scene with four foothill mesas. It is a highway scene outside the north outskirts of Monument, Colorado. Reincarnations of this image appear at least once in each of the artist's seven styles.
My journal-entry record from the 1980s fills three diary-sized volumes. When typed as a complete manuscript, it is 207 single-spaced pages long. A later “Reader’s Digest” version comes in at a mere 134 pages. Both versions include observations about my work from visitors who brought with them a shared interest in art and art history. These included museum directors, artists, gallery owners, art educators, art writers et al.
I have maintained a low profile with my painting despite that it was my full time pursuit for half a decade. During those years between 1981 and 1987 I entered state and regional juried competitions with gratifying results.
A museum director, Dr. Wm. C. Landwehr (Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Mo.), offered me a one-person show in the mid '80s, but I had ambitious works then in progress that I believed should be included. For that reason, I passed on the offer. He moved on, and the possibility existed for a museum show back east, but logistics seemed a bit overwhelming and we never acted on it.
Over subsequent years, a few other visitors (most were art world figures) offered generous sums for certain of my paintings, and one gallery owner who became aware of the work in that period asked me to show for sale in his gallery in a one-person show. That level of interest was sufficient to confirm the validity of my work,
But not wishing to part with works that by the nature of deconstruction are inter-related, I continue to live with them and enjoy sharing them—mostly with photographers, writers and visiting friends. I make my living doing many art-related things and enjoy hanging my paintings as a permanent exhibition in my home. They number almost a hundred in all. Of course, there are hundreds of drawings associated with them as well.
Altogether that quantity is not a great body of work by professional standards. Further, Tom Benton once observed that “An artist can never produce too much work—only too little.” Maybe I produced too little. On the other hand though, I can take heart in pointing to Egon Schiele who died far too young at age 28 in World War I and still left an important art legacy (further enhanced perhaps in part from historically having been associated with Gustav Klimt).
I have many life pursuits. Creating a potentially enduring body of accepted artworks has been rewarding and may prove the most worthwhile of my career contributions. Writing, of course, is another similarly positive pursuit. Still others include advising and assisting artists such as Stan Herd and Don M. Beaulieu in their careers. I also have served as a consultant to museum officials and to managers of estates of artists; a service performed for Trustees of the estates of Tom Benton and Reynold Weidenaar, for example.
I have appraised art for a few collectors and museums and, in 1992, was hired by the Swiss government to appraise more than sixty Benton artworks for shipping insurance purposes going to and from a museum exhibition in the Italian region of that beautiful country. In summation, I am likely to be interested in all that pertains to art and, more specifically, in any worthy art-related endeavor that I am fortunate enough to encounter.
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