R. Brownell McGrew
Aspiring artists used to ask R. Brownell McGrew to show them his tricks. There aren't any tricks, he would tell them. For McGrew, painting grew out of passion, and patience. McGrew rarely talked about painting; but his stated goal was “to paint as well as I can, in order to communicate the infinite thrill and rapture of God's creation.”
McGrew was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1916, and his family moved to California during his middle school years. From 1936 to 1940 he attended the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. McGrew acknowledged that, although he had many fine teachers, Ralph Holmes had a “profound and decisive influence” on him. “He taught entirely by principle; by creating a sort of ambient aesthetic,” McGrew wrote. “Never once in my years with him did he demonstrate or teach technique. It's a slow way to learn, but if one's patience and money hold out; probably the best.”
McGrew spent the war years designing and drafting material for Firestone. In 1946, he was the first recipient of the John F. and Ann Lee Stacey Fellowship; and he used the money for intensive study of the Western landscape. In the mid-1950's, he traveled to Arizona with Jimmy Swinnerton, who was known as the Dean of Desert Painters. There, McGrew met Navajo and Hopi people, whose way of life inspired his admiration.
In the late 1960's, McGrew was invited to become a member of the Cowboy Artists of America, “a singularly generous and broad-minded gesture on the part of the cowboys,” he wrote. In the mid-1970's, however, he was forced to tender his resignation, because his careful and slow process made it difficult for him to present new work for each annual show. One of the honors of his career, he said, was “having the CAA fellows request me to reconsider my resignation.” McGrew continued as an emeritus member of the CAA, contributing to the shows as time permitted, until his death in 1994.
Eiteljorg Museum of Art; National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum; Phoenix Art Museum