by Len Lear
Jay McClellan, 41, a mega-talented painter of dogs who lives in East Falls and is represented by Gravers Lane Gallery in Chestnut Hill, is one of the Philadelphia area’s most in-demand painters of pet dogs, having completed more than 30 commissioned works in the past year.
It is easy to see why. McClellan, who always has artwork at Gravers Lane (he also has his work up in Stone Harbor at Beacon Shortwave Gallery and at Gamut Gallery in Evansville, Indiana), is able to capture the soul as well as a virtual photographic representation of a beloved dog. His subjects look as if they are about to walk out of the painting and onto your lap.
Jay, who also will be teaching at Jefferson/Philadelphia University in East Falls in the fall, sold his first painting in Philadelphia in a unique way. After his first showing at a gallery in University City, the gallery owner offered to store Jay’s large paintings on the second floor. However, he later learned that the landlord had locked the building because of a dispute with the gallery owner and would not let anyone back in.
“So I got the police involved,” recalled Jay, “as well as the building owner. As a result, my friends and I were able to get the paintings out. A lady happened to be walking by and saw the painting of Honey (one of Jay’s dogs) and bought it right there on the street. That was an interesting way to sell a painting.”
Since that bizarre start, Jay has become one of the most successful painters of canines in the Philadelphia area. His large dog paintings hang in the White Dog Café restaurants in University City and Haverford, at Harrah’s Casino in Chester and numerous other locations. Jay was born in Maumelle, Arkansas, a small town outside of Little Rock. After 10 years of a lucrative career in the graphic design industry and his mother’s death due to pancreatic cancer, McClellan made the tough decision to go back to school. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Memphis College of Art and then a Master of Fine Arts from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Why walk away from a lucrative career to roll the dice on fine art, even though most fine artists are struggling to pay the bills? “I was looking for something more out of life,” he explained. “Long days of being creative in a pressure-filled environment was not the way I wanted to live my life. I really enjoy working with people, and I have found that painting commissions is a fulfilling form of being creative and collaborating.
“There is a common but special connection that we make with the dog(s) that I like to share with the people I work with. ‘Struggling to pay bills’ is a part of life. For me painting has never been about money; it’s always been about the connection I make with the viewer and that common bond we have with dogs.”
McClellan particularly loves to create paintings of his family life, which consists of his wife Stephanie and daughter Sophie Lynn, one, and their two dogs — Lucky, eight, a coonhound mix, and Ava Belle Blue, two, a bluetick coonhound.
Honey, a former family member, died in January of this year at the age of 17. “The hardest thing I have ever done,” Jay said, “was losing my mother and my two dogs, Tip and Honey …
“The calmness and happiness that the dogs bring to me, I want to paint. People can tell when I haven’t painted in several days. I start to get antsy and irritable. Painting gets my motor running while serving as a form of relaxation.”
McClellan’s paintings have been exhibited nationally and are held in many private collections including that of former Phillies second baseman, Chase Utley. Awards include Honorable Mention at the 45th Annual Delta Exhibition and the Mabel Wilson Woodrow Fellowship Award at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
One of his satisfied customers, Marcea Driscoll, of Chestnut Hill, previously told us, “We love Jay’s painting of our dogs, and the two paintings hang in our family room. They are bright and happy and a great rendering of our dogs. The best part is how Jay is able to capture the soul of the dogs in their eyes … One day, when our children have their own home, they will take these paintings of their beloved dogs with them and have them for the rest of their lives.”
What is Jay’s biggest pet peeve? “People who don’t understand the bond between a dog and a human. It’s an extraordinary relationship that I wish everyone could enjoy.”
What is the best advice Jay ever received? “To focus on the positive things in my life.”
For more information: www.jaymcclellan.com or 215-713-5639.