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 Michael McCarthy  (1951 - )

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Lived/Active: Arizona      Known for: landscape, some figure

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Michael McCarthy
An example of work by Michael McCarthy
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Information about Michael McCarthy provided by artist Robin John Anderson.

I met Michael McCarthy in the early 1980's.  He had shown up at my studio for a life-drawing session.  I used to hire a model and then share the session with as many artists as would come.  David had arrived with his notebook.  I remember that he . . . had a mop of curly blond hair.  With a name like McCarthy, he would be an Irishman.  His manner was broad; expansive and affable.

We met briefly downstairs before the session so we had a few minutes to talk. He reluctantly showed his notebook to me.  In that notebook, I found a very facile drawing of a rock outcropping.  It was a slick drawing which surprised me. From that drawing I ascertained certain working methods.  I came to the conclusion that he hikes into inaccessible areas and creates these "notes." Photography would never do for him because that is an entirely different kind of recording.  I believe that he would bring these drawings back to his studio and then, with a technique kindred to that of the Hudson River Artists, assemble a composition.

Later on I read an article in Southwest Art that recounted how he had wanted to gain access to a certain part of the Grand Canyon not open to the public.  As he approached, the ranger in charge refused him entrance.  Michael went back to his van and pulled out one of his paintings and showed it to the ranger who looked at it and without saying a word, gave Michael permission to enter.  (A good story and probably true.)

The first thing about the article that struck me was Michael's insistence on the TRUTH. (When I hear the word "truth" from anyone---especially from an artist---I usually run the other way.)  But to Michael, I think the word "truth"means something different than to most artists.  I believe that he uses the word in a religious rather than an artistic sense; that when he says "truth" that he means to say that he is conjuring up his inner-most beliefs about a specific experience.  Through the art form---like a drawing---he is able to record the arduous walk to the area, the "music" in the air; the smells, the tactile impressions of the poetry of the moment---and, yes, of the presence of God.
Note from Michael McCarthy:
Regarding the Grand Canyon story, in Mr.Anderson's kind account of me, he
recollects an article he read in Southwest Art about my gaining permission to
access the Grand Canyon by showing a ranger one of my paintings.

The story is correct in the highlights, but it was actually a different park.  The year was 1974, I was in Yellowstone for the second time, and to secure permission to explore Yellowstone Canyon freely, I went to the Park headquarters.  I waited outside the office of the Superintendent for over two hours with a framed 4 by 6 foot canvas of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. When his secretary finally ushered me in, I lugged that fairly heroic-size piece in with me, citing 'artistic license', 'the legacy of Moran', 'manifest destiny and whatever else I could think of to have him grant me permission to climb in the canyon like Moran had done over 100 years earlier.

Taking one look at me, and this huge painting, this kind and forbearing ranger pulled some official stationery from his desk and hand-wrote for me a letter of permission for the next month to hike in the Canyon, with the stipulation the Park Service was not responsible for my safety, that I would take all reasonable precautions, etc.

I thanked him and left for the Canyon immediately. Some of the sketches and photographs I was to make over the next weeks were from perches in the canyon that few, if any, civilians had been allowed to visit in a few decades, and are still off-limits today.

At any rate, that would seem to be an adequate "rest of the story, except for one final Yellowstone episode,

A year of so later, there was a fairly significant earthquake, 6.1, that rocked the Norris area of Yellowstone, including the Canyon.  Some of the rim sites and overlooks with their walkways were supposedly damaged.  I had come up to Yellowstone from Los Angeles again that next summer to sketch and paint, I was on a mission, and no 'pip-squeak' earthquake was about to stop me.

One of the most fantastical viewpoints in the canyon, which Moran utilized as a central organizing vista in his compositions for painting the Canyon, is Inspiration Point, a narrow sheaf of rock jutting out into the abyss.  On it the Park Service had theatrically built a spectacularly engineered descending gangplank of concrete, attached to the fragile cliffs with steel bars and masonry. I had been in the area the day of the earthquake, and to someone familiarized to earthquakes by the San Andreas fault it honestly did not seem that bad a shock.

Looking back, how wrong I was!  The Park Service had chained off the entrance to the rim drive the following day.  I sneaked around the cordons, hiked a mile or so through the forest, blowing past the yellow 'crime scene' tape at the entrance to the point, disregarding the damage alarm signs stapled over the geology-explanation plaques.

I reasoned it had not fallen down yet, my time was limited, and the site was doubtlessly slated for repairs -- or in some instances , demolition -- in the following days, so I vowed I would get out to this roost, made famous by Moran.  I wanted, quite simply , to see it as he had seen it, one last time, and -- admittedly more grandiosely -- I thought it wouldn't it be great to have done the last drawing ever from such a point in space, if I could just manage to draw it without killing myself!  I was 24, an experienced climber, heights didn't scare me, and surefootedness had guided me though many a test.

After what should have been a peremptory examination, I calmly strode out to the end of the walkway.  I noted the cracked sidewalks, but nothing else seemed dramatically out of place.  There was a wonderful sunset that evening, and as the mingling lights and shadows played across the roughly textured and exotic canyon formations, I strode down the rim-edge walkway to the little concrete platen of an overlook , plopped down my drawing stool, and got to work.

Little did I realize, until I completed my pencil drawing and watercolor, that what I had serenely walked upon was no longer supported by anything save a crumbling chimney of white and yellow rhyolite rock under the literal end where I was sitting!  I looked under the railing, and all the supporting rock had plummeted hundreds of feet below; the angle of the walkway had blocked this salient fact from my view initially.

I got down on my shaky knees and crawled ever so slowly back up the 100 feet I had come, crossing the 3 1/2" cracked wafer of concrete and rebar that was hanging in midair, trying without success not to notice how it was vibrating rocks below me loose as they clanged into the gorge.  Crawling the gangplank back to safety, I thanked God and ghost of Moran for allowing me safe passage back to terra firma, which as I recall is the only ground I have ever actually kissed!

So who says artists don't go the extra mile?

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