Fred Oldfield Center hosts 21st Annual Celebration of Western & Wildlife Art Show & Auction, Oct. 8 to 10; meet guest of honor Michael McGrady, actor and painter!
[singlepic id=300 w=320 h=240 float=left]“Icon” … It’s a word that has lost much of its impact through overuse by our glib media.
I don’t mean “icon” in the sense of a religious image or, similarly, a command symbol on a computer monitor (everyone’s personal shrine in the Internet Age, with direct access to the gods and demons of cyberspace: no clergy necessary). I mean it as an embodiment of a spirit and an era, a place and a time and an approach to life.
Ask Americans and observers of America what they see as this nation’s most iconic figure – the embodiment of the American spirit – and I’ll wager my milk money they’ll say the cowboy.
To those of us who generally get no closer to a horse than watching a Clint Eastwood movie, “cowboy” in the classic sense is a broad term that includes different people who lived in the Old West of lore and legend, that rugged, untamed land west of the Mississippi from the mid-19th century to the early years of the 20th. We may use the “cowboy” loosely to mean a frontiersman, applying it to not just to ranchers and cattlemen but homesteaders and sheepherders, trappers and traders, prospectors and mountain men. All the same, it’s that courage and independence amid solitude and long vistas that we revere – that unself-conscious individualism and rawhide-tough acceptance of danger and deprivation – that even nowadays inspires little kids, wearing cardboard Stetsons and plastic six-shooters from Wal-Mart, to walk with a swagger and imagine themselves riding the range.
The Old West – that’s to say, the historical West of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour, John Wayne and John Ford – supposedly ended with World War I, a cataclysm that marked the ends of eras in many other places as well. But the American West as a physical place (a very broad and topographically varied one) and the cowboy as an archetype live on, although the modern world tries to encroach a little more each day. Usually it succeeds, but not always …
That’s because there is flesh-and-blood proof that the cowboy of yesteryear still walks with us: He’s Fred Oldfield, onetime placer miner, ex-prizefighter, Army veteran, longtime cattle driver, renowned painter with an extensive and devoted following.
Raised on the Yakima Reservation, Fred, now 92, is a Washington cultural institution, a beloved mentor to the young artists (most on scholarships) who study with him at the nonprofit Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center (www.FredOldfieldCenter.org), located at the Puyallup Fairgrounds (home to another Washington cultural institution, during which Fred enthusiastically pitches in every spring and fall). Honored in 2003 and 2008 by the Washington State Senate and Governors Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire, respectively – they declared his 85th and 90th birthdays “Fred Oldfield Day” – Fred is a rare individual who has done much in his 92 years and still bubbles over with creative energy. While working in Alaska in his late teens, he started painting Western scenes on bunkhouse walls and linoleum tiles; over the years he would paint whole murals depicting historic events and sweeping landscapes for businesses like the Horseshoe Café in Bellingham and the Copper Creek Inn at Mt. Rainier; and he continues to fill canvases with stirring images of the cowboy life he lived and the vast and starkly beautiful terrain in which he lived it.
Actually, “authentic” is a good adjective to describe Fred Oldfield – for his achievements, certainly, but also for the person he is. For Fred is emblematic of a time and a place and a value system that seems endangered in this 21st century, threatened by the apathy, selfishness, sloth, moral laxity and general dumbing down of our society. He brings to us a heritage of barn raisings and caring neighbors happy to lend a hand; a strong work ethic and a sense of personal integrity in which one’s word is a matter of honor, an agreement sealed with a handshake a solemn promise; and a sense of duty to one’s community, especially the young and disadvantaged.
[singlepic id=302 w=320 h=240 float=left]This is Fred Oldfield’s West, and it’s one commemorated during the Celebration of Western & Wildlife Art Show & Auction that The Fred Oldfield Center hosts each year – in fact this week, from Fri. to Sun., Oct. 8 to 10, in the Expo Hall (Gold Gate) at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Show hours are Fri., 3 to 10 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sun., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (253) 445-9175 for more information.
You’ll be stirred by the flair and vision with which Western themes are embraced by more than 100 extremely talented artists – painters, illustrators, sculptors, carvers, weavers, photographers and jewelers – and you’ll enjoy great country music by top-flight performers. There will also be live and silent auctions, art demonstrations, one-hour “quick-draw” challenges and meet-and-greets. Admission and parking are FREE, and proceeds from the show will benefit the Experience Art Program at The Fred Oldfield Center. It’s an event the whole family will love!
But that’s not all: This year’s guest of honor is Federal Way native Michael McGrady, a masterful professional landscape painter (view his work at www.McGradyFineArt.com), an intrepid hang glider and an accomplished martial artist (he’s the holder of two black belts) who also happens to be a highly successful TV and film actor. (Michael stars as Detective Daniel “Sal” Salinger on the TNT police drama “Southland,” played Buchalter in the action-thriller series “Day Break” and has been in a slew of other shows, from “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ER” to “The Mentalist,” “Bones” and “Cold Case,” with repeat appearances in “CSI: Miami,” “Las Vegas,” “24” and “Murder, She Wrote.” His extensive filmography includes roles in “Evolution,” “The Thin Red Line,” “The Deep End of the Ocean,” “Wyatt Earp” and “The Babe,” in which he played Lou Gehrig opposite John Goodman as Babe Ruth).
Michael is passionate about art and especially painting, and I had a lot of questions about this important part of his life – and Fred Oldfield’s place in it. He obliged by answering them with great eloquence and wit …
AmeriCollector: How long have you been an artist?
Michael: I have been an artist ever since I can remember. I started out hiding under my sheets at night with a flashlight and pencil and paper drawing dinosaurs and race cars. I was supposed to be sleeping (LOL). I have always been a doodler and often sketch on napkins, bit of paper, whatever is handy at the moment.
I have been painting for a little over 20 years, although I have been either drawing or sculpting for much longer. I started out sculpting soapstone in my late teens and Carrara marble not too many years after.
I never dreamed that one day I would be a selling professional artist. I recently had a solo show at one of the galleries that represent my work and sold eight painting within the first two weeks.
AC: What do you most enjoy about painting?
Michael: What I enjoy most is the solitude and the freedom to get lost in thought … lost in the world of the subject. The dance between right-brain and left-brain activity is like massaging the brain. When I paint, I often listen to different types of music from classical to Led Zeppelin to help transport me emotionally into the painting I happen to be working on. I’ve been accused of being a romantic and I suppose I am guilty of that: Give me my paints, a blank canvas, a glass of good wine and I am in heaven. Riding my Harley with my wife on the back does the same thing (LOL).
AC: Many actors, including the late Tony Curtis (who passed away last week), have derived great satisfaction through painting. Is there a connection between performing and painting?
Michael: Tony Curtis, Tony Bennett and Gene Hackman are all great artists. There are several actors that paint. All of the arts are interchangeable as far as I experience them. I write, I play guitar and sing, sculpt and even dance Salsa with my wife, and the language is all the same: movement, line, composition, positive space, negative space, rests, melody, shape, etc. Primarily it all comes from the ability to let go and think less with the mind and feel more with the heart. It sounds corny but it’s the truth.
I have yet to meet an artist that bored me. Most are widely and deeply read and have a real appetite for new experiences. And all have a passion for life. I love to spend hours talking with other artists. I have a friend, Tim Willocks, who lives in the countryside of Ireland. He is an amazing novelist. He was a psychiatrist specializing in addiction and suicide. He practiced and studied at Oxford. He has written some incredible novels, his latest “The Religion.” He and I can get together with a bottle of good whiskey and talk for hours about everything under the sun, and yet, when I walk away, I am invigorated, rested and inspired. Small talk drains all of my energy and always leaves me wanting.
AC: Your landscapes are fantastic: beautifully executed and full of real atmosphere. Do you paint from life or imagination – or both?
Michael: I paint from both life and imagination. Usually I use what is in front of me as a reference point – a launch pad, if you will. Once I can grasp the “thing” that caught my attention in the first place, I then go about getting it down as quickly as possible in terms of color, form, edges, etc. Then I embellish as my instincts direct me.
AC: Do you have any favorite subject matter? Do you think growing up in the Northwest has had an influence on you?
Michael: Growing up in the Pacific Northwest has certainly influenced me. I gravitate toward landscapes because, let’s face it, nowhere on earth is there such diverse beauty than the Pacific Northwest. I tend toward autumn colors. Autumn is my favorite time of year: the umbers, rusts, ochers, browns, yellows and reds against bold blue greens, yellow greens and deep blues … I also like the feel of autumn: the cool crisp air, the sweet smell of maple leaves crushed beneath my feet and the smell of pine. That mix of fragrances has always been able to enchant me.
AC: What painters do you admire?
Michael: I admire the works of Joaquín Sarolla, Richard Schmid, John Singer Sergeant, Anders Zorn, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Jeremy Lipking, G. Harvey and my friend and recent mentor, Fred Oldfield.
AC: How long have you known of Fred Oldfield and his work? Has he had an influence on you?
Michael: I saw that ol’ rattlesnake Fred Oldfield on television a couple of years ago while recuperating from the flu. I was lying on the couch and he came on our local PBS station. I was amazed and shocked at what could be done with a knife. I recorded the episode and as soon as I got better I turned Fred back on and painted along with him. I was so satisfied by the experience and the results that I have been painting with knives ever since. I owe Mr. Oldfield a serious debt of gratitude: He opened up a world of art that I did not know existed. I now modify my own knives by shaping them and filing them to suit me.
To be invited to this event as the guest artist is more than just an honor: It is a humbling experience and one that will go down in my mind as a milestone. Fred’s daughter Joella has been a refreshing and welcome influence in our lives. Her loving, sweet and genuine nature has inspired both my wife and me to seek out more friends like her.
I am eager to get up there this week and meet Fred. I have talked with him on the phone and it was like I was talking to the grandfather I never had. We immediately hit it off and began talking about art and the Pacific Northwest. We have stayed in touch ever since.
Images of Michael McGrady’s paintings copyright © McGradyFineArt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.