Artist makes a lasting impression

Oakville man’s works selected for St. Louis Artists Guild exhibition

Kirkwood resident Ron Flier was the subject of this portrait by Oakville resident Ed McKay. The portrait is among a few select winners of the St. Louis Artists Guilds juried exhibition Portraits Around the World.

Kirkwood resident Ron Flier was the subject of this portrait by Oakville resident Ed McKay. The portrait is among a few select winners of the St. Louis Artists Guild’s juried exhibition ‘Portraits Around the World.’

By BILL MILLIGAN

An Oakville man who grew up idolizing such comic-book artists as Neil Adams, Jim Steranko and Steve Ditko is among a few select winners of the St. Louis Artists Guild’s juried exhibition “Portraits Around the World.”

Ed McKay, 55, had two of his portraits selected for the exhibit. His portrait of 72-year-old Ron Flier of Kirkwood was among few to win award recognition.

Flier is an artist, an inventor and a friend of McKay’s.

“… He invented the process that is used for all the soy-based imitation wheat products that are out there. He’s a race car driver, a great painter (and) a fantastic, brilliant guy,” McKay said of Flier.

Flier also was complimentary of McKay, particularly of a portrait McKay did of his father, Ed McKay Sr. That portrait also was selected for the exhibit.

“He’s a member of Mensa,” Flier said of McKay. “The portrait of his father is quite good. I don’t do portraits because you have to be part psychologist.”

“Portraits Around the World” is an exhibition of portraiture juried by Michael Byron, a professor of art at Washington University. The exhibit focuses on cultural diversity and artistic traditions conveyed through portraits representative of the local immigrant populations who have settled in the St. Louis area, thereby enriching the community with their own cultural and artistic traditions.

The exhibit highlights more than 100 works by area painters and runs through March 7 at St. Louis Artists’ Guild, Two Oak Knoll Park, near the intersection of Clayton and Big Bend roads in Clayton.

“I was tickled to death to find out I had two paintings accepted into the show,” McKay said. “I haven’t done all that many portraits. I’m very happy with the way they were turning out.”

McKay got his start at school in Lanham, Md., where his classmates would give him a quarter to 50 cents for the things he doodled in class.

“What kind of great feedback is that?” McKay said. “I’ve never stopped. I started doing art in sixth grade, tracing out of comic books. I relied on muscle memory to draw. I used to dream I would grow up and do what the artists I admired were doing, but I was never that good.”

At one point, McKay had nearly complete collections of all the comics he admired.

“All of the originals. I gave them away for next to nothing,” he recalled.

His artistic abilities landed him a position as production manager with an advertising agency in northern Virginia. The gentleman who started that company moved to south county and took a position at Robert Koch Hospital as chief of regional learning resources for the Department of Veterans Affairs. McKay soon followed.

“I thought I would only be here for a few years, but 25 years later I’m still here,” he said.

McKay was one of the few who knew how to operate a computer graphics machine that was developed by General Electric for NASA to visualize how the space shuttle would look on re-entry.

“It was an expensive device, built before there were personal computers,” McKay said. “The console cost $250,000 in the early 1980s. It would be well over $1 million today. It had two refrigerator-sized computer systems side-by-side that had the computing power a wristwatch would have today. I got to be very good at that system …”

Today, he works with the Office of Academic Affiliations, a national program office that manages the policy and funding for 100,000 clinical trainees who cycle through the VA every year.

“Like when you watch ‘ER’ and you hear about the residency interns,” he said.

Four years ago, McKay began painting with oil.

“My first oil painting came out fantastic,” he said. “So I stuck with it. I really love the texture, the lusciousness and the bright colors.”

Besides the Artists Guild, he is a member of the St. Louis Water Color Society, the St. Charles Art Foundry and a partner with the Gateway Gallery in Clayton. Another Gateway Gallery partner told him of the Artists Guild competition.

“I entered and was lucky enough to win one of the prizes,” McKay said.

He said he likes portraits and realism.

“I haven’t done a lot of abstract. I can appreciate some, but a lot I don’t get it. I’ve done some abstract, I’ve sold abstract, but I don’t get a lot of satisfaction out of it — not like I do out of painting realism.”

He wants to work on a series of jazz pianists’ portraits next, but Steve Wilson, a friend and fellow artist, is pulling him in a different direction.

“Steve has contacted me about his project to paint portraits of fallen soldiers and giving the paintings to their families,” McKay said. “I did one of Col. Steven Scott. The family was very appreciative.”

But McKay hesitates to commit to the work because he would not want to turn anyone down.

“We could never keep up with demand,” he said.

Demand, production schedules and business models are not what makes McKay paint.

“Painting is restful,” he said. “I get a lot of peace from it. Sometimes, I paint in total quiet. Sometimes, I turn on the stereo. It’s funny. I’ll be dancing while I’m painting. Back and forth. It’s a lot of fun.”