"create in the Spirit of truth"
in smile. He ordinarily wears a winsome look that
belies the seriousness which usually pervades his
consciousness. He laughs heartily, easily and often.
His demeanor appears more outgoing and refined than
that of your typical artist. He is an articulate speaker,
with a finely tuned sense of public relations, perhaps,
in part, because his chosen field is portraiture and he
must often communicate with his patrons regarding
portrait commissions. This fine tuning, no doubt,
contributes to the pronounced sensibility apparent in
his work, and to a particular sensitivity to others.
His intensity is a most compelling part of his person.
Upon meeting him, one can almost sense the pervasive
interest he has in the human species and likewise the
current example of same with whom he recently
conversed. Perhaps it might better be called
conviction than intensity. It is immediately apparent in
himself and in all his work. It is perceptible in
between every stroke of his oils and his pastels,
regardless of his subject matter.
In some of his portraits, the subjects' personas
are obviously mild while others are patently
aggressive. In any of his portraits, these qualities are
absolutely visible. You can feel the personality as you
look at Mike's interpretation.
Another way of addressing this special quality in the
artist (and in all his work, it seems) is through his
sense of dedication and spirituality. It would appear,
that herein, lies a key to Mike's distinctive
"positive-realism approach" to painting, which he
says, is built upon a "synergistic application of faith
and hard work and affirmative vision."
Mike often suggests that his work is divinely inspired.
He finds solace and inspiration in prayer. When he
speaks, it is almost as if you are transported back
some 300 years to the Netherlands and Rembrandt is
discussing his passion and his Savior's role in the
process. Mike is clearly guided by transcendental
responses to portrait challenges. His words frequently
describe the importance of faith and prayer and
heavenly inspiration...and of an inner resolve to
"create in the Spirit of truth."
His dedication and spirituality do, likewise, seem to
merge affirmatively in his paintings. This unusual
communion is much more evident in his later work
than in his earlier work. His recent portraits have a
much more clearly defined sense of maturity and
charisma than pictures he painted in earlier years.
He was raised in New Jersey, where he displayed
early portraits of celebrities. He was educated at
George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where,
at the age of 16 he recalls receiving his first
commission. He next attended Rollins College in
Winter Park, Florida, where his attention was more on
the romantic aspects of collegiate life and his portrait
painting than on the liberal arts academia. It was there
that he accomplished his first public commission in
1970, set up his first "studio", and discerned that art
and people were where his life career would lead him.
Mike's curriculum vitae, however, seems almost
irrelevant when you look at his work. It speaks to you
about the people he has chosen to convey. He seems
to select some personality aspect as a theme and then
convincingly render it in a positive light. Of this
process of selection Mike says, "I'm inclined to look
for the good in people and this seems to carry over
into the process of selecting such variables as poses,
costumes, lighting and backgrounds when I'm working
on a commission. There's good about everyone and I
find looking for the good helps to bring out the best in
the subjects I have the good fortune to paint."
In one portrait, you can feel that this young woman
has a sense of adventure. In another, he has captured
this man's brooding, contemplative nature in a
complimentary manner. In yet another, he has taken a
plain face and one feels the warm character behind the
less-than-handsome features. A child's innocence and
charm radiate from still another. An executive in the
prime of his life exudes a worldly confidence.
Another woman is clearly haughty and likes herself
that way. A bride and groom become one on their
wedding day. And a man who is proud of his success
also speaks through Mike's affirmative brush strokes.
McVaugh is definitely not a modernist. His work is
more traditional than others in the field. His
draughtmanship and means of composition have
classical sensibilities. His use of color and drapery and
folds is very reminiscent of the Dutch painters. His
use of light and shadow is also very good and his
highlights are clearly directional.
Yet to this writer his particular talent is to make each
portrait as unique as the subject he was commissioned
to paint. His work is anything but photographic.
There is a likeness that a camera can catch of course,
but then there is the haunting something else that is
speaking to you about the character, lifestyle and
beliefs of the subject. This power is what transcends
McVaugh's work beyond the ordinary. He appears to
capture likeness and mood and spirit...and subtleties of
likeness and mood and spirit as well.
He has talent.
Mr. Benasher, former art critic and writer for ARTnews
Magazine, was trained in aesthetics at the University of
Pennsylvania and at New York University. The photo is
by J. R. Hosner Copyright © All rights reserved.