Experience art that's a little on the wild side with a trip to the Chris McClelland Gallery in Hay.
Chris McClelland is an artist whose pencil drawings of wildlife are internationally renowned. His art is exquisitely accurate and depicts the most intense and intimate moments of its subjects’ wild lives.
He draws inspiration for his compositions from his real life experiences, and describes a time in Africa when an elephant was charging straight towards him. At such a moment it’s reasonable to think that he might be moderately concerned for his bodily wellbeing, but Chris was instead thinking about how good this animal would look in one of his drawings.
“The elephant’s ears and trunk were relaxed,” he explains, “so I knew it was a mock charge; if he was serious his ears would be pinned back and his trunk curled up under his head.”
Chris honed his observational skills of animal body language and behaviour over a lifetime working with on a sheep station in outback NSW, and it is this that allows him to capture the reality of his subjects.
He had always been a talented drawer, and won prizes for his efforts at school in the 1940s and 1950s.
“But modernism was just coming into Australia then,” Chris explains, “realism was kicked out of the door.”
Lacking an interest in modernist art he never pursued formal training, and he didn’t start drawing seriously until late in his life. It was during a trip to Africa that he fell in love with the beauty of the continent’s wildlife – inspiring him to pick up pencil and paper again.
“I was managing a sheep station at the time and took Sunday's off to do the drawing,” he explains. “I went to Africa every year for nearly ten years, just before shearing.”
His wife, Margie McClelland, a talented photographer in her own right, accompanied him on these trips and observed how at peace he was in the African landscape.
“He would only draw African animals on the sheep station,” she says, “as a way to escape and relax from life's stresses.”
It was after his retirement from station life that he began to pursue his art more seriously; first from home and then from his gallery in the old bank building on the main street of Hay, where he can now be found drawing most days of the week.
Margie works with him in the studio; exhibiting her own photographic work and helping with the management of Chris’s drawings.
“With Margie managing my work I started showing all around the world.” he says.
The walls of the gallery are alive with print reproductions of Chris’s original muses - the majestic African wildlife. They hang beside works depicting the fauna he encountered on later travels in South America’s Patagonia wilderness.
Since retirement he has also started documenting the images from his life spent chasing sheep on NSW’s flat saltbush plains. Dogs, horses, jackeroos and native Australian wildlife are nestled between the elephants and hyenas of Africa – giving the visitor an insight into the extraordinary and varied life of this artist from the outback.
The Chris McClelland Gallery is located at 84 Lachlan St, Hay, NSW.