Robert McCauley | Biography

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Robert McCauley was born and raised in Mt. Vernon, Washington. He graduated from Western Washington University in 1969, and received his Master of Fine Arts Degree from Washington State University in 1972. Throughout his career, McCauley has earned many prestigious awards including a Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982 and the Illinois Arts Council in 1999. McCauley also enjoyed a long and distinguished career as professor and Chairman of the Art Department at Rockford College in Illinois. Robert McCauley has created a mode of realism that is haunting and full of ambiguity. His distinctive animals manage to seem literal and symbolic at the same time, the viewer is suspended between these realms.

Wild Life

"We are losing our relationship with Nature. I aspire to re-tether some of the connections." -Robert McCauley

Robert McCauley is an important 21st century American artist, and history will remember him as such. But in order to understand why, we first must consider where he is from and how he got here.
A little less than a decade ago, McCauley was featured at a major exhibition in Chicago and he was quoted as saying then, "I think you spend all your life trying to find the right form for the content you have within you." Urban, Midwestern visitors who viewed the show were enthralled.
Make no mistake about the source of McCauley's inner content: He is a product of America's greatest forest-the mighty aboriginal stands of fir, spruce, cedar and redwoods growing in the Pacific Northwest. Those skyscraping canopies once reservoired a breathtaking array of ecological richness and diversity, from streams choked with spawning salmon to massive grizzliesl wapiti and deer haunting the understories, raptors screeching through the misty, arboreal heavens, and the loom of an ever-present ocean.
As the totem poles and amulets of native peoples attest, the life forces of nature there are planted indelibly into the human psyche. Robert McCauley's too.

When I think of where McCauley fits into American art, as a contemporary painter, sculptor and naturalistic interpreter, I place him in the same philosophical tribe as Walton Ford, Alexis Rockman, Annie Coe, Ray Troll, and a group of Rocky Mountain regionalists who include Monte Dolack, Parks Reece and Tina Close. It's heady company (all have seen their ecologically-oriented work become acquired for various museum collections) and, in the case of Ford, he's internationally famous as an iconoclast.
As a group, their overlay of modern environmental commentary is bold, courageous and inescapable in how it speaks to us-in our time. Individually, per artist, it is also distinct. Why is McCauley's oeuvre so deceivingly potent Because it oozes with authenticity, emanating from his home in the West.

Born in 1946 in Mt. Vernon, Washington, McCauley is the son and grandson of loggers. With the rise of industrial forestry, he watched the sheltering groves of his youth being relentlessly felled. There is, he says, nothing more traumatically disquieting than walking through a landscape after it has been clearcut.
Nobel Prize winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) resorted to illusion, metaphor and magical realism to tell true stories about events where the real names of protagonists could not be used. For McCauley and his pack of artists, animals are anthropomorphic muses for their own magical realism, portrayed with clever satire to make the narrative more palpable.
As he notes in his accompanying essay in this catalog: "As a human exercising what little political power I have, I struggle to campaign for nature and to remind all humans of our responsibilities as stewards of this planet." He refuses to become cynical or absorbed in despair. Rather, he uses his enormous talent to inspire and be a voice for the voiceless.
Of greatest delight to McCauley is the collision of juxtaposition- between real and surreal, humankind and nature, light and shadow, representation and abstraction, bright palette and subtle, the Romantics like Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt versus Willem de Koonig and Jackson Pollock, and visual language supplemented occasionally by the written word. It's art for a thinking person.
McCauley draws upon classical literature, political philosophy, natural history and, of course, the temporal movements of art to inform his message. (For 35 years, he was a popular college art instructor in Illinois before returning to Washington State). Always, there are deeper layers to be explored for those with the inclination and wherewithal to dive in deeper.
McCauley's bestiary in this exhibition "Why They Like The West" with sculptor Kirsten Kainz at Visions West epitomizes the point. By design, his animals are voyeuristically joining us in our living space, but the question really is: In this mirror between the frame, is it nature or humanity itself that is meeting our own gaze?
As paintings alone, the works are soothing, evocative, inviting and whimsically almost interactive. Were one, for example, to position a McCauley above the fireplace mantle, it would seem perfectly in place. And yet, for the art collector who enjoys the prospect of visual media serving as catalysts for conversation with guests or family members, including youngsters, the invitation looms large.
Indeed it is in this realm where Robert McCauley earns a place as more than an artist simply knocking off pretty scenes. His objective is not to anesthetize, but to awaken the power of wildlife symbolism in the personal and collective unconscious.
While critics can argue about what the role of art is, one persuasive notion is that it should heighten the experience of being ambulatory and therefore make us more aware, more informed, and more sensitive to the world around us.
McCauley's intention, certainly, is not to preach about that which compels him to paint-the desecration of a natural firmament that makes Earth glorious and novel; he is, instead, simply asking us to, if even for a moment, slow down, stop, and idyll in the muse that is wild life.

-Todd Wilkinson, Bozeman, Montana 2012

Artist Statement

In Bear I Trust:

Sometimes I feel as if I'm a class photographer at an elementary school, trying to get a host of subjects to be still while I fit them all in the viewfinder.

As a painter, the task is equally difficult to arrange my images within the rectangle, trying to avoid an obvious composition, but rather, to compose in the manner in which nature composes. Which is to say no composition. It simply is.

As a human exercising what little political power I might have, I struggle to campaign for nature and to remind all humans of our responsibilities as stewards of this planet. Art being transcendent, the images must rise above the banal, the vulgar, and the horrific. Graphic depiction of the plight of wildlife is an experience with which we are all too familiar. We turn away when news reports of abused animals flash on the screen. Instead, I choose to present a moment that does not immediately conjure a doomed future, but rather a moment when nature is in limbo, with a future still to be determined. It's a somewhat playful and ethereal moment, ironically rooted in the physical, malleable act of painting. Without that joyful element chock full o' oil paint and brush invention, I'd have to find a different form for my voice. To paint every day is pure optimism. As Marshall Mcluhan's mantra tells us, "the medium is the message".

I am a fictionalized history revisionist. I gather together my animals and compress them into the rectangle as if they're all on the Raft of the Medusa, adrift, with one common concern: survival. As would happen on any lifeboat, the inhabitants are a mixed lot indeed. Animals from different climate zones are found side by side. Not so fictitious now that global warming is blurring the distinct zones. Predator and prey ignore previous tensions and stare out at the viewer, as if to ask, "Well?" And a storm brews on the horizon. Read the signs. We are down at eye level with the animals because there is no hierarchy. Snails and polar bears. We're all in this together. Read the signs.

In many of the paintings, I have used an overlay of the painted word. I've painted them not solid, but as outlines as if a narrator's voice has been dubbed over the image. Wordsmithing and painting are of equal delight. If words are painted in paint, are they words or paintings? I trust the word "bear" as I trust the image of "bear". This is my voice.


Washington State University, Pullman, WA, M.F.A., 1972
Western Washington University, B.A., 1969


2012 Gail Severn Gallery
2012 Linda Hodges Gallery
2010 "Rear View Mirror: Robert McCauley from the Rockford Art Museum Collection," Rockford, IL
Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle , WA
2009 "Robert McCauley: Rapids and Pools," Hallie Ford Museum, Willamette University, Salem , OR
"Selected New Work," Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
Visions West Gallery, Denver CO
2008 Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
2007 Mixing Metaphors, Gail Severn Gallery, Sun Valley, ID
2006 When Worlds Collide, Safety Kleen Gallery One, Elgin Community College, Elgin, IL
2005 Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
K Kimpton Contemporary Art, San Francisco, CA
2004 Storytelling , Gail Severn Gallery, Sun Valley, ID
Field Notes, Perimeter Gallery, Chicago, IL
2001 Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
K Kimpton Contemporary Art, San Francisco, CA
2000 Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, California
1999 Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, Washington
1999 Perimeter Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
1998 Illinois Wesleyan University
1998 Northern Illinois University, Chicago, Illinois
1998 Whatcom Museum of Art, Bellingham, Washington
1997 Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
1997 Gail Severn Gallery, Sun Valley, ID
1997 Phyllis Kind Gallery, Chicago, IL
1994 Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA
1993 West Virginia University, Morgantown
Parkland College, Champaign, IL
Susan Cummins Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1992 University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN
Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, IL
1990 Joan Robey Gallery, Denver, CO
Robert Kidd Gallery, Detroit, MI
"Two Long at Sea", Rockford College
1989 K. Kimpton Gallery, San Francisco, CA
"Robert McCauley: Sculpture and Drawings", Sonoma State University,
two-year traveling, Dennis Adrian catalog (1989-91)
Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, IL
1988 Ivory/Kimpton Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1987 Roy Boyd Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
"The Forests of Dunsinane", Installation, J.R. Kortman, Rockford
1986 Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, IL
1985 Columbus Cultural Center, Columbus, OH
Roy Boyd Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1984 Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, IL
1983 Susan Caldwell Gallery, New York, NY
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
"Magic Shows", Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, IL
1982 "Robert McCauley: Towers", Chicago Cultural Center, IL
Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, IL
1981 Millikin University, Decatur, IL
1979 Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
1978 Contemporary Art Workshop, Chicago, IL
1977 Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL
1977 Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN
1976 Denison University, Granville, OH
1975 Illinois Arts Council, Chicago, IL


2011 "Living in the Woods: A History of Nature," curated, Fresh Paint Gallery, Los Angeles
2011 "Wild/Life," Museum of Northwest Art, LaConner, WA
2008 25th Anniversary Exhibition, Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
2005 "Trusting Woods to Tempest Sea," Palo Alto Art Center, Palo Alto CA
2004 "Mark My Word, Text Code and Literary Allusion," Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner, WA
"Preview 2005," Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
2003 "Animality," Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
2000 "Inaugural Group Exhibition", Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
"Notable Alumni in the Visual Arts", Centennial Celebration, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
1998-01 "The View From Here: 100 Artist Mark the Centennial Celebration of Mt. Rainier National Park", Seafisrt Gallery, Seattle, WA, traveling
1998 "Twenty Years/ Twenty Artists", Sonoma State University, Sonoma, CA
1997 "Bio-Adversity",Cornish College of the Arts, Fisher Gallery, Seattle, WA
1997 "A Thought Intercepted," drawing invitational, California Museum of Art,
Santa Clara, CA
1997 "Small Works: An Introduction," Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA
1996 "Mythic Narrative," Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CA
1995-96 "Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and American Art, 1940-1990, two-year traveling, text
1995 "Off the Wall", Phyllis Kind Gallery, Chicago, IL
"Juxtaposition", K. Kimpton Contemporary Art, San Francisco, CA
"SOFA" Exposition, Chicago Navy Pier, installation
"Exploring Natural Imagery: Works by Four Midwestern Artists",
Quincy Art Center, Quincy, IL
"SOFA" Exposition, Miami, FL
"U.S.A. Within Limits", Galeria Millan, Sao-Paulo, Brazil
"Ex Libris: An Exhibition of Artists' Books", Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, WA, curated
"Artfair/Seattle", WA
1994 "The Art of Language", curated, St. Paul Insurance Companies, MN
"No Feathers: Manifest Destiny Indicted", catalog, Rockford College, IL
"The Object Redux: Re Used, Re Newed, and Re Invented", catalog,
Wustum Museum of Art, Racine, WI
"Chicago Art Expo", Chicago Navy Pier, IL (1981-94)
"Artfair/Seattle", WA
1993 "Aquatic Visions", curated, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL
"Small Figure Sculpture Exhibition", curated, Susan Cummins Gallery, San Francisco, CA
"Book, Box, Word", Center of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL
"Artfair/Seattle", WA
1992 "Pages", Contemporary Art Center, Arlington, IL
"Artfair/Seattle", WA
"Shipwreck", Kirkland Arts Center, Kirkland, WA
"The Signs of the Cross", Jamison Thomas Gallery, Portland, OR
"Sculptors on Paper", traveling, University of Wisconsin
Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle, WA
"New Gallery Artists", Susan Cummins Gallery, San Francisco, CA
"The Best of Joan Robey Gallery", Denver, CO
1990 "Beyond the Frame: Techniques and Expressions in Sculpture",
Alza Corporation, Palo Alto, CA
"The Making of a Legend: Chief Seattle's Reply", Hatley- Martin Gallery, San Francisco, CA
"Nature/Nature", University of Illinois, Chicago, IL
"Partners in Purchase: Selected Works, 1976-1987", catalog, Lakeview Museum, Peoria, IL
"Chicago International New Art Forms Expo", Chicago Navy Pier, IL
"Selections from the Roy Boyd Gallery", Grand Valley St. University, Chicago, IL
1989-91 "Deep Woods: Concerning Nature in Recent Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture",
two-year traveling catalog, Tweed Museum
1989 "Animal Imagery", Susan Cummins Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1988 "Endangered Species", Klein Gallery, Chicago, IL
"Wotazoo", Joan Robey Gallery, Denver, CO
1987 "Masks by Chicago Artists", Klein Gallery, Chicago, IL
1986-88 "Sculptor's Drawings", Sonoma State University, traveling, catalog, CA
1986 "Chicago Draws", Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL
"Forum", Zurich, Switzerland
"Whirlpool Foundation Sculpture Competition" traveling, Chicago, IL
"Materials in Media", Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL
"Fetish: Obsessive Expressions", Rockford Art Museum, IL
"Exterior/Interior: Large Scale Sculpture", catalog, Rockford Art Museum, Rockford ,IL
1985 "Invitational Alumni Exhibition", Western Washington University
Stux Gallery Group Exhibition, New York, NY
"Managerie", San Francisco International Airport, CA
"Artists look at Architecture", Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco, CA
"Nocturnal Images", Paine Art Center, traveling, Osh Kosh, IL
"The Object Transformed", Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL
1984 "Salvo", Ruth Siegel Gallery, New York, NY
"Alternative Spaces: A History in Chicago", catalog, Museum of Contemporary Art,
Chicago, IL
"Nocturne", Ruth Siegel Gallery, New Work, NY
"Chicago Scene" Mandeville Gallery, University of California, San Diego, CA
"Construction", San Francisco International Airport
"Chicago International Sculpture/Mile 2", catalog, Chicago Navy Pier, IL
"New Directions in Pastel", Rahr-West Museum
"Chicago: Emerging Visions", Paine Art Center, Osh Kosh, IL
"Five Sculptural Artists", Cerritos College, CA
"16 Sculptors", Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, IL, and Los Angeles, CA
"Twenty Illinois Painters", Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, IL
1983 "The Artist Collects", Illinois Arts Council IL
"Shelters", Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL
"Works on Paper", Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, IL
1982 "New Horizons in Art", Chicago Cultural Center, IL
"Major Byrne's Mile of Sculpture", catalog, Chicago Navy Pier, IL
1981 "78th Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity", John G. Curtis Award,
Chicago Art Institute, IL
"Objects to Ponder" Columbia college, Chicago, IL
"Best of the Midwest", Artists Guild of Chicago, IL
"Illinois % for the Arts", Western Illinois University, IL
1980 "Selections from the Roy Boyd Gallery", Isis Gallery, University of Notre Dame, IN
"Drawing from Chicago", catalog, University of Nebraska
1979 "6/6", ARC Gallery, Chicago, IL
1976-76 "75th and 76th Exhibitions by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity", Chicago Art Institute, IL


1999 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Painting
1994 Faculty Summer Research Grant, Rockford College, IL
1991 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, Drawing
1982 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Drawing
1981 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, Sculpture
1980 Illinois Arts council Completion Grant, Sculpture


1972-present Professor and Chairman, Art Department, Rockford College, IL
1996 Curator, SMALL WONDERS, San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum, CA
1995 Visiting Artist, Northwestern University, IL
1993 Visiting Artist, West Virginia University, Morgantown, IL
1992 Visiting Artist, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN
Visiting Artist, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
1990 Visiting Artist, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL
1989 Visiting Artist, California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock, CA
Visiting Artist, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Visiting Artist, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA
1987 Visiting Artist, "Spazio Umano", International Review of Art and Literature, #1
1983 Visiting Artist, Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1970-72 Graduate Teaching Assistant, Washington State University, WA


Alberta Trunk and Gas Line Company, Alberta, Canada
Amoco, Denver, CO
Anoka-Ramsey State Junior College
Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR
Atlantic Richfield Company, Los Angeles, CA
Augustana College, Rock Island, IL
Baird and Warner, Chicago, IL
Borg-Werner, Chicago, IL
Continental Bank of Chicago, IL
Easter Illinois University, Charleston, IL
Herman Miller, Inc. Zeeland, MI
Illinois State Museum, Springfield, IL
Joseph Behr and Sons, Rockford, IL
Kemper Group, Long Grove, IL
Microsoft, Seattle, WA
Milliken University, Decatur, IL
Northern Illinois University, Decalb, IL
Phillip Morris, New York, NY
Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, IL
Rockford College, Rockford, IL
Saks Fifth Avenue, NYC, Portland, Denver, Troy(MI), Minneapolis
Security Pacific National Bank, Los Angeles and Sanger, CA
Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN
Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
Walker Richer Quinn, Seattle, WA