Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpArlington’s talented pool of painters is peopled by joiners as well as loners.

Among the latter—and among the most commercially successful artists nationwide—is longtime Arlingtonian Paul McGehee.

Known for his deeply researched historical flavor, McGehee has sold hundreds of oils in his “luminist” style. His works hang in the collections of presidents Reagan, Clinton and Bush as well as those of well-known entertainers, athletes, corporations, government agencies and local historical societies. (I recently toured the chambers of Arlington Juvenile Domestic Relations Court Judge George Varoutsos, who displays McGehee’s work.)

Two years ago I was shown McGehee’s rendition of “Arlington House”, showing Robert E. Lee out front, a slave behind him tending a carriage. Soon I was helping induct McGehee, a member of the class of ’78 whose family I grew up with, in the Yorktown High School Hall of Fame and Inspiration.

McGehee’s canvas reaches our entire region, but some of his best work, in my untutored opinion, features Arlington. A most recent painting is titled “Potomac River Vista– 1955,” an Arlington-centric aerial portrait of Key Bridge showing the old Hot Shoppes in Rosslyn. The artist retains fond child memories of that local chain’s orange freezes and “teen twist” sandwiches, he told me.

After taking courses at the Corcoran Gallery after high school, McGehee began selling his work in 1981 in Ballston. Since 1995, he has run things from his gallery in Old Town Alexandria, now with a staff of three. He has 250 paintings in print, “a lot of art for one guy,” he says. Large originals go for $55,000 to $75,000, smaller ones in the $8000-$12,000 range. He sells prints for $200 and “remarques”—prints with an added original pencil drawing—for $800.

As for inspiration, “it’s like a shark, I have keep moving forward, thinking of the next idea or two,” McGehee says. “Occasionally I get a commission, the historical angle being primary for me, and I flesh out a story based on bits of information.

Asked whether he belongs to organizations such as the Arlington Artists Alliance, which launched the Northern Virginia Art Center at Crystal City Underground, MaGehee says, “I enjoy seeing those exhibits, but they’re kind of outside my field of art and print publishing.”

Having painted for printmaking since high school “put me on a different path, so I do one-man shows,” McGehee says. “It’s a different tangent of the art world.”

***

Living on a cul-de-sac is a blessing because we’re spared the heavy traffic. But the price we pay is being last on the Arlington snowplow priority list.

During the snowstorm I asked county folks whether it helps if my neighbors and I send emails demanding faster service. “We focus on keeping main arteries passable first for emergency vehicles, school routes and public transportation and then move into residential streets,” replied Jessica Baxter, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Services Department, referring to the phases laid out on the county website.

“I’m sure you can imagine that this winter season has been very difficult on all of us, including our crews,” added her colleague Diana Sun. “They are working around the clock to clear roads, and the particulars of this storm have not helped (very cold weather, ice, sleet, freezing). Cul-de-sacs are always problematic’ they are very tough to plow.”

I’ll buy that.

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