This summer, the Baltimore artist Robert McClintock can see one of his brightly colored original prints hanging in the prestigious Smithsonian Institution. He just can't get into Artscape.
The 54-year-old McClintock is one of Baltimore's most popular — and populist — artists. Though his images of golden retrievers, local landmarks, firefighters and football players can be purchased for as little as $12, people buy enough of them to provide McClintock with gross annual sales that he describes as being in the high six figures.
Marilyn Monroe's face superimposed on the side of a building in Washington's Woodley Park neighborhood, will be on display in an exhibit called "Pushing Boundaries."
So McClintock can't help feeling stung that his work has been rejected for three of the past four years by the juries that determine which local and national artists can sell their paintings and photographs at the summer Artscape celebration.
"Some people think there might be a jealousy thing operating," McClintock says.
"I'm one of the best-selling artists around. During the 10 years that I showed at Artscape, you couldn't even get into my booth, it was so packed. But I don't fit the profile of a gallery artist starving in a garret. I'm a commercial artist, and I make a living."
McClintock's creations are the visual equivalent of a sugar rush. Partly, that's because the artist uses intense, saturated hues and because the outlines of such buildings as the Domino Sugars plant waver slightly, as if they are reflected in water. He plays with focus, so that a hound's ears and nose loom disproportionately large. In another print, the Bromo Seltzer tower inclines at a sharp angle, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The effect can leave a viewer feeling slightly tipsy.
But McClintock also intentionally paints his adopted city in a rosy glow, with nary a piece of litter in sight. His sports figures are heroic, and most of his dogs seem to be smiling.
That subject matter alone might be enough to discredit McClintock in a field that has traditionally professed a disdain for the marketplace, and which prides itself on producing edgy, intellectually dense work.
It doesn't help that McClintock, who lives in Charles Village, describes himself unapologetically as a businessman, or that he's been so successful at it, maintaining a light-filled studio just steps from the Chesapeake Bay and paying the salaries of four employees.
And it doesn't help that McClintock has bypassed the galleries that typically sell original paintings, watercolors and prints.
Instead, his works have been picked up by such major retail chains as Michaels, Kohl's, HomeGoods, and T.J. Maxx. In the past year alone, McClintock sold more than 50,000 works through a licensing agreement that placed four posters of his dogs in every Target store in North America.
"It's definitely not the fine-art gallery route or the museum route," McClintock says, "but it's a way for my work to be shown nationally and even internationally."
Nor does it help that to create his pieces, he's using new technology that many established artists view with suspicion.
McClintock begins with an original photograph and then paints over it using a computer program that allows him to apply brush strokes of various thicknesses, blend edges and soften colors.
His methodology is akin to hand-tinting Polaroid photographs, and in fact, the artist previously spent several years doing just that.
Detractors contend that McClintock is merely "Photoshopping" his work — that is, generating watercolor and other effects with one click of his mouse — an accusation that he strongly resents. He says he can spend anywhere between five hours and three days creating each image, not including the time it takes to shoot the photograph.
"I take great pride in the originality of my work," he says.
"People think I'm one of the Astors, but I don't have any rich uncles in my back pocket. Everything I have, I've created from scratch. I made one piece of art and someone bought it, so I made two."