Art of the American West

Clarence McGrath

American/Arizona (b. 1938)


A native of the American southwest, W. Clarence McGrath began life in Arizona, son of a sharecropper. To help support the family, he worked as a farm and ranch hand and as a sheepherder. In his spare time, he painted and sketched.

Encouraged by his family, and by hometown artist/druggist Hal Empie, McGrath received early recognition as well as the rudiments of his chosen profession. His high school art teacher, Shorty Clothier, and Glen West, his art instructor at Eastern Arizona Junior College, helped mold the young artist.

In the 1950’s, McGrath realized that his art could support him and spent a year in Phoenix sketching portraits. He and his family moved to Southern California, where McGrath hoped to make a living as a portrait painter at Knotts Berry Farm. However, the busy tourist season had ended, and he had to work in a warehouse to earn a living. After working hours, McGrath studied with local artists Phil Gilkerson, Sergei Bongart and Leon Franks. From Bongart he adopted the habit of painting with music in the background.

In his painting, McGrath continued to follow his own proclivities, painting what and how it pleased him. His ability began to support him, and in 1962, McGrath earned the J.F. and Anna Lee Stacey Fellowship Award, which provided a painting trip to Central America. Within the next ten years, the painter sold his belongings and moved to Mexico, spending his time painting and living there, New Mexico and Southern California.

Now known as a realist painter who focuses on the human element, McGrath’s work is often compared to that of the Russian painter, Nicolai Fechin, in technique and subject matter.