Local artist Richard McKee’s life-long passion for painting had to take a back seat to his illustrious 40-year-career as a graphic designer for General Motors, but once he retired, he was able to dedicate more time to his craft. As a result, McKee’s works are currently being displayed by the Huron Valley Council for the Arts (HVCA) in an exhibition entitled “From Milford to Williamsburg-A Retrospective of Paintings.” The exhibition began Feb. 4 and runs through Feb. 26 at the HVCA. McKee’s has served the lakes area art community in several civic capacities. He is a founding member of the HVCA and a current member of the Village Fine Arts Association. He has earned recognition for his artwork via several individual awards. He designed a flag for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s “New Glory” flag contest which was exhibited at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. It also toured America with the Smithsonian Sites Program. Moreover, he has created logos for many civic organizations and municipalities, such as Milford Township. McKee’s artwork has been displayed at various art galleries around the country, but he said he paints for the sheer pleasure of it. “Transparent watercolor provides exciting accidents of color blends. I paint for personal gratification. It’s what makes me who I am,” he said. McKee and his wife, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year, reside in White Lake Township.
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SCN: Why did you name the exhibition “From Milford to Williamsburg” — did you live in Williamsburg, Va. at some point? What attracts you to that area enough to use it as an art subject?
RM: We love the history and we used to go to Williamsburg once a year, sometimes twice. We’d walk around and enjoy ourselves. Of course I’ve been doing paintings here in Milford so I thought that would be a good idea.
SCN: Describe the theme or styles of artwork at the exhibition and why these pieces were chosen. Over how much time did you compile this portfolio?
RM: It probably took about — it seems like I could never get done. It probably took a couple weeks. I’ve had them and had to compile them because I’ve had them a while. I had to clean the glass and get them ready. They are just subjects. I just picked them out and chose them for no reason.
SCN: Do you strictly paint in watercolor or do you use other mediums?
RM: I primarily paint in transparent watercolor now. I have used other mediums, but I’m more comfortable in the watercolor now. That’s why I like it.
SCN: Would you like to try your hand at another style of art in the future?
RM: I’ve done pastels. I did a couple pastels a few years ago. I don’t know — I can’t answer that.
SCN: At what age did you begin painting and knew for certain this was the career path for you?
RM: I’ve always wanted to do paintings since I was in grade school, like we all do. I just kept going with it. I took correspondence courses in art. In fact, I did the correspondence school while I was in grade school or in high school. The old ad “Draw Me” — I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not — appeared in papers. If you “draw me” and send it in and if you win you could go to art school. Well, when I was older I thought that’s pretty funny … so I entered it at Art Instruction Inc. from Minneapolis. I took a year of that.
SCN: Could you tell us what art schools you went to?
RM: Meinzinger Art School in Detroit, which no longer exists, at Hancock and Woodward. I went there for about a year and a half and then went into the service. While I was in Spokane, I attended Washington State … and then when I got out of the service I went a year at Brooklyn Pratt Institute. Then I came home and continued to go to art school in Detroit at Arts and Crafts, an offshoot from Meinzinger that took over there.
SCN: Describe your work as a graphic designer for General Motors. What kinds of art did you create and what awards did you receive during your tenure there?
RM: I was part of some awards in graphic design. We did symbols for the corporation, for the divisions and various manuals on corporate identity — how GM should use the corporate identification. I was part of that — writing the manuals and, I guess it still exists, but it was primarily the designing of the corporate symbols and divisional symbols.
I’m trying to remember (what awards) we got — one for our studio department, and there were three of us there; and one for the corporate identification program. It was given credit by an agency in New York. They took us there and I enjoyed it.
SCN: How long were you with GM?
RM: 40 years.
SCN: You are a founding member of the HVCA. Why was it formed and how have you seen it grow and change over time?
RM: It’s grown very well and changed quite a bit. It’s well organized. We have a director (Leah) and she’s there all the time, and a young lady who helps her. It’s expanded quite well. First we were meeting at various schools because we had teachers that were also involved and we didn’t have a place to meet. Anyway we now have the building in Highland, the old Highland Library — it’s a church there in Highland on Livingston. It has done quite well.
SCN: What is your involvement in the Village Fine Arts Association?
RM: I’m just a member. I enjoy talking with the artists. Milford has a lot of fine artists — quite good. I’m just a member of that organization. We meet at the Presbyterian Church the fourth Wednesday of every month and enjoy it. I’ve met a lot of people. It kind of serves as inspiration for your own painting to keep up on it. It helps.
SCN: You used to teach art for the HVCA. What classes did you teach and what inspired you to do so?
RM: I was with the Janine Aubergine Gallery here in Milford and I taught two classes at her gallery. I’m a little uncomfortable teaching. I’ve had people ask me to teach, but … I only did it a couple times.
SCN: What advice can you give the aspiring artist?
RM: It kind of comes by itself. As an artist you’re self-inspired. Just keep drawing, just keep at it. It develops. It starts out rather uncertain, but you keep practicing drawing and painting, and it develops.
SCN: Back to the exhibition. Can you tell our readers what kinds of paintings these are — are they all landscapes? What exactly is in the exhibition?
RM: Most of the Williamsburg (part) would be buildings in Williamsburg — streets, people from the university there take part in reenacting things that went on when Williamsburg was first built. Most of it is that — the old buildings. In (the) Milford (portion), there’s a Perry Street painting — a new bridge that was built. I have a painting of that. That’s on the poster. I kind of like architecture and people. I took a lot of drawing classes on figure drawing. I took three years of that so I feel comfortable doing that.
SCN: Is it fair to say the compilation is mostly architecture and people?
RM: Yes, you could say that — the old wells and fences in Williamsburg. They have a unique feel about them – the buildings.
SCN: Are these abstract?
RM: They are realistic. I don’t have any abstracts, although I’ve done them. They aren’t in the show.