By Len Lear
Jay McClellan, 40, a mega-talented painter of dogs who lives in East Falls and is represented by Gravers Lane Gallery in Chestnut Hill, sold his first painting in Philadelphia in a unique way. After his first gallery 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 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 their three dogs — Honey (who is 17) and Lucky, both hound mixes from the same litter, and Ava Belle, a bluetick coonhound.
“Over the last couple of weeks we found out that Honey has cancer,” Jay said last week. “We raised money for her to have surgery by selling hand-pulled screen prints of her painting at the White Dog Café in Haverford. Unfortunately, before we could have the surgery, we found out the cancer had spread, and operating was no longer an option for her. We have now switched to trying alternative medications to try and prolong her life. She seems very determined and energetic still, so we want to do what we can to support her. My heart is filled with love for her, and it pains me to think of not having her here with me.
“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. McClellan currently paints full time in his East Falls studio and is an instructor at Delaware County Community College and Philadelphia University.
About 90% of Jay’s paintings are of dogs, mostly on commission. They have sold well at the Gravers Lane Gallery. “I am appreciative of the support for my work within the Chestnut Hill community,” he said.
One of his satisfied customers, Marcea Driscoll, of Chestnut Hill, 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.”
Kristina Erfe Pines, of Wynnewood, founder and publisher of Spoonful Magazine, is thrilled about Jay’s painting of Pippi, her 4-year-old Cavalier-Poodle mix. “Jay has the uncanny ability to capture not just the likeness but the character of our dogs in his paintings,” she said. “They bring us such joy every time we see them.”
Is it difficult for Jay to let go of his dog paintings? “Some are. It depends on the subject. I find that the paintings of Tip (who has passed away) are hard to let go of. I am starting to feel the same way about the paintings of Honey.”
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.”
Which person in the world would Jay most like to meet and spend an hour with?
“I would like to have one more hour with my mom. I would love to tell her what I have been doing since her death, as well as get advice on having my first child. My biggest wish is that my wife Stephanie could meet and talk to her for that hour. I also know that during that hour I would see my dog, Tip, because I know he is with my mom.”
Jay and his wife are expecting their first two-legged child very soon. In fact, he/she may have already have made an appearance by the date of this article.
More information at www.jaymcclellan.com or 215-713-5639.