Robert Pearson McChesney (American, 1913-2008)
Campo A #7, 1951
Campo A #7, 1951
Crocker Art Museum, gift of The Anorcase Foundation
In 1948, Robert McChesney moved into a Point Richmond house shared by the artists Mary Fuller, Edward Corbett, and Hassel Smith. Until then, McChesney had painted in an abstract Surrealist manner closely related to the style of the Bay Area painter Charles Howard, whom he met through the Work Projects Administration (WPA). Following his move to Point Richmond, McChesney undertook a round-the-world trip, working as a merchant marine, after which he and Mary Fuller married. The year 1949 was filled not only with travel, but with teaching at the California School of Fine Arts and a brief stay in Mexico.
Breaking away to Mexico allowed McChesney to separate himself from the artistic practices he had assimilated. While he consciously continued to paint non-objectively, he also placed a new emphasis on pictorial organization. He sought tension between areas of light and dark so that his shapes would not only suggest the depth of field but also flux and shimmer. He aimed for the abstract visualization of sensory experience—sights, sounds, smells, colors, and light—spun into a pulsing ectoplasm.
McChesney’s new aesthetic required new materials, and so he incorporated quick-drying enamel paints into his compositions. To areas of wet enamel he applied sand and then burnished select areas with a dry brush while leaving others rough. This resulted in lighter and denser zones that he juxtaposed with Mexican-inspired reds and rich sables, developing a style distinguished by its simultaneous absorption and reflection of light.