Friday, October 5, 2012
The art of James W. McLemore
“I found something even better than the imaginary gold that was supposed to be hanging out of trees. I found the chance to get an excellent education.”
One glance at James W. McLemore’s work proves that an artist like McLemore, whose life experiences have been rich and varied, will naturally create an intense and fascinating body of work. Even paintings that appear to be uncomplicated will have inner depth. One glance will not be enough. The levels of understanding the artist has captured will demand that the viewer take the time to study the painting. One who looks deeper into the art will be rewarded by more thoughtful levels of appreciation.
“Although I was always interested in art, in making my own drawings and in looking at other artist’s paintings, there was no art program at Mary C. Womack High School when I was a student there,” McLemore explained. “I had to wait until I left Longview before I could learn the things I wanted to know about art.”
The artist left Texas for California. “I had friends and acquaintances who had gone away to California,” he said. “When they came back home to visit, they were driving fancy Cadillac cars and wearing expensive looking clothes. They told us there was gold hanging off the trees out there.”
Naturally, he had to go west to see for himself. He had aunts who were living in California, so of course he went off to earn his fortune in a place where “gold was hanging from the trees.”
“That’s when I found out those expensive clothes my friends were wearing when they came home might possibly have been second hand, and those fancy Cadillac cars they were driving were definitely rented as a way to impress us. I found out you had to work just as hard out there in California as you had to work back here in Texas.”
Not a man to be discouraged, McLemore enrolled in the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Ca. It is now known as the California College of the Arts. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree with a major in Industrial Design and a minor in Advertising Design. He said, “I found something even better than the imaginary gold that was supposed to be hanging out of trees. I found the chance to get an excellent education.”
After graduating from the California College of the Arts, he became involved in a number of careers. He was able to use his art in many of them, and he was able to develop his art because of them. He worked in an industry where he became a senior designer in mechanical engineering. He served as an Army Illustrator, both in Germany and Vietnam. He retired from the U.S. Air Force. He was a Civil Engineering Assistant. He applied to the Department of Public Safety Academy in Austin. He was accepted, graduated, and became a Texas State Trooper. At first he was assigned to the Dallas area, and from there he was able to come home to East Texas. He served briefly as a Longview police officer. He taught art to junior high and high school students.
He enrolled at the University of Texas at Tyler and received his master of arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. His love for art kept calling to him. He realized that he wanted to teach in public schools so that a new generation of students could have the opportunity to discover and experience art at an early time in their lives.
He spent eighteen years teaching art in public schools and has Lifetime All-Level Teaching Certification. He taught art in the junior high school in Marshall as well as in senior high schools in Gladewater, Tyler and Longview. He is justifiably proud of his art students, many of whom who earned All-State ratings and received letters of accommodation. A number of his students received scholarships.
“I made it clear to everyone that when they took my art class, they had to be serious about it,” he said. “I told both the faculty and the students that taking my art classes was as serious as taking A.P. Calculus. I told the faculty that if they had a football player or some other student who wanted to take the class for “playtime,” they had to warn him that this class would be serious in structure and in content.”
During all this time and his many different careers, McLemore continued to significantly focus on his own art. He produced works in oil, acrylic and watercolor. He did some 30 hours of work toward a master of fine arts degree.
“I originally began painting with oils,” he said. “But I signed up for a class in Tyler that was called “water media.” Much to my surprise, it turned out to be a class in acrylic painting. Acrylic paint really is a water-based medium, and I loved it. There is something direct and free about acrylic paint. I never went back to oils. Even so, I continued to be fascinated by transparent watercolors.”
Although some of his most important work involves figures and people in life settings, the artist says he feels most comfortable with landscapes and architectural images.
“I like landscapes, and I like buildings, particularly those buildings that have a story to tell. As I travel across East Texas, I am always impressed with the old dilapidated structures you see along the sides of the roads. There are so many old abandoned buildings, old barns and old houses. There is an old house on Highway 322 between Gregg County and Henderson that captured my imagination,” he said. “I kept going back to that same place. I painted that same house several times in several different moods.”
When asked about his most recent interest, he was enthusiastic. “These days, I want to do nothing but paint transparent watercolors. I recently fell in love with that technique all over again. Transparent watercolor is fresh, clear and pure. I enjoy the spontaneous colors and the reflection of light as it bounces off the bare, white paper.”
Whether he is working in acrylic or in transparent watercolor, McLemore’s paintings demonstrate his mastery of color and form. Some paintings are bright and vibrant. Others are more subdued and almost brooding, depending on the subject at hand. All reflect the depth and vision of life’s experience.