To say that Buck McCain recreates the emotions and spirit of the American experience is to succumb to the shallow fantasies of lesser men. What Buck McCain does, rather, is translate the dreams and history of the Western sensibility through the powerful and eloquent language of his art. It is a language that comes naturally to this artist born and raised on a working cattle ranch in southern California in 1943. Somehow, the reality of the rugged Western life and the persistent attraction of art and painting were reconciled over the years, although it took the bright young scholarship student several detours through the disciplines of science and philosophy to finally find his way to an art major in college. McCain eventually studied painting and sculpture in California, New Mexico, Mexico, and most importantly, Europe. The classical training and international exposure received on the European continent never distracted him from what he loved most. Even while in Switzerland some bond to the Western sensibility compelled him to paint scenes from the life and history he knew so well.
McCain is a complex, multidimensional talent who is constantly testing himself, pushing beyond the last triumph to the next challenge. An inspired painter, he has been influenced by Rembrandt and intrigued – but never overwhelmed – by the French Impressionists, soaking in bits and pieces of technique, using them to forge his own style and identity. He expresses an appreciation for the color and vitality of the American Impressionists, a love that spills over into his own work. And no matter what the accomplishments of the past, there is always the quest of new challenges, moving from canvas to clay to bronze and back again with ease, seeking new vents for a restless creative energy.
That capacity to comfortably move between mediums of expression accounts for McCain’s emergence as one of the recognized masters of modern monumental bronzes. As obsessed with perfection and balance as he is with scale, McCain betrays a strong affinity for classical Greek form in his sculpture. Like Rodin, whose work he has admired and studied, McCain seems to possess an instinctive proclivity for mass and texture and balance. In silhouette, his sculptures carry an energy and presence usually reserved for animate beings. The emergence of character, even personality, bespeaks the vitality that the sculptor brings to his work. He continues to investigate new creative avenues, from jewelry and design to sculpting in stone. Unpredictable in his intelligence and talent, he currently pursues new artistic dimensions from his ranch in Arizona.
You know you are looking at a great work of art when you are so deeply into the mood and the subject, you cease being aware of either artist or technique. Everyone pulls art into themselves through the screen of their personality, memory and soul, and in so doing they make it their own, different from everyone else. When you encounter a great work of art some part of you is changed forever.
Most of us think realism means the way things are; the problem is each of us has a slightly different view of how things are. Ask four people about the same sculpture or painting they saw and you will get some general agreement, but also some strange and wonderful divergence. In paintings or sculptures, the artist shows the viewer some very convincing realism in key areas- the remaining areas can be only a suggestion and the viewer will fill in the missing detail in their own mind. It is true that the artist sometimes gets paid for having the viewer do part of the work.
I find many questions are not answered by the mind. Many times when I am painting I am coming not from an intellectual place, but from the heart. A color either feels right or it doesn’t. Many things speak to the feelings in a way the mind can’t hear. Can you define beauty? No, but you feel it unequivocally.
In sculpting you do not get to paint the landscape or the atmosphere around your subject. You cannot rely on the trick of color, nor can you control the lighting. It is just about form, light and shadow, negative and positive space.
In sculpture you are expressing one second frozen in time. In a painting you can suggest linear time and movement. You can build the atmosphere around the moving figure, with dust around a running horse. You can not make dust out of bronze, nor can you blur the image. Bronze is an unrelenting metal and to suggest movement, you have to resort only to the form.