In his relentless pursuit to produce the quintessential visual art, the 42-year-old is a driven artist, motivated by his diverse creativity that pokes at him like a hunger. But this artist must also feed his family as well as his soul. So he creates, he teaches and he works for hire, always pursuing his passion — perfection in art.
“I constantly have new ideas for creating new products,” McNeese said. “I’m constantly starting new pieces. I like a challenge. God gave me the ability to create things with my hands and I find pleasure in it. What I find a burden is trying to contend with normal life, because the mental state of a driven artist isn’t normal.
I often tell people these inspirational ideas are a lot like a lizzard. You grab a hold of it and try to catch it, but the tail comes off in your hand. You’re only left with a little bit of the truth. The lizzard goes on to grow another tail. I see it visually like that. I get an idea for a painting or a sculpture and it’s like getting the tail of it — not all of it. Then there’s the idea that if I ever did that one painting or one sculpture that was just perfect — then I could quit. It’s not doing it good enough that keeps driving me to do it better the next time.”
The Cleveland native said he prefer to do oil paintings and large sculptures, but there is little demand for such art locally, so he stays busy with an assortment of artful tasks.
“I’ve done portraits for hire since I was 16 — in pencil, water colors, oils — really, any medium,” he said. “I want to do it all. I have a quilt going at the house. I love doing the culinary arts — anything with my hands! It’s a bit obsessive. Vain repetition is the death of art. I like doing new things all the time and then challenging myself to do it faster or better or different. Before my wife and I started having children, no matter where you went to sit in our home there was something for me to pick up and make a mess with.”
According to McNeese, it started decades ago when he was an adolescent growing up at his stepfamily’s gas station, which was located on 25th Street at the time.
“I grew up hanging out there because I didn’t really have any place to go during the summers,” McNeese said. “For some reason I decided I was going to paint a couple of buildings. So at age 10 I took a little chair from the office of the old Orbit gas station and sat in front of what at that time was Merchants Bank. I worked on it off and on for about a week, painting on a canvas. The president of the bank saw it and purchased it from me for $10 dollars. I had no training, but, hey, I made money off of it! The drive was there and the money was there.
“So the next week I proceeded to set myself up in front of what was then the Cherokee restaurant. It was a locally owned family restaurant where Zaxbys is today. I proceeded to paint a painting of it and the owner purchased it from me for $15. I would also do little sculptural maquettes (pronounced ma-ket) of Greek and Romanesque styled sculptures and would occasionally sell them to truckers who came through to purchase their diesel.”
After entering high school McNeese became that rare student to actually sell pottery and paintings through Burger Gallery that was in Cleveland. “Dale Dotson sold many pieces for me,” he said.
The soft spoken artist credits his artistic nature to both sides of his birth family, saying, “All of this is based on the fact that my real father, Chester McNeese, was a local artist. He did paintings on vans and motorcycle tanks, but he also did carvings. They were very Gatlinburg-looking — the old man with the beard, carved into the wood. I wasn’t extremely connected with him. I was much more connected to my stepfather, Will.
"From my mother’s side I have several relatives that were awesome artists. My uncle Bob painted when he was young and ended up becoming a draftsman for the forest service. He was a great painter but back then there was no money in it and he got a real job to support his wife and kids.”
McNeese has managed to blend both worlds by creating a business that compliments his talents and hints at his fixation, The Eager Beader, a rare art store that presents handmade pottery, custom jewelry and specialty beads. He also teaches nine different painting and pottery classes in his shop for people of all ages. Most of his classes, however, consist of home-schooled students.
“I had a six-year-old who produced his first sterling silver piece by hand,” McNeese said. “You’re not going to find too many places that inable young ones to produce silver pieces.”
Married eight years, McNeese and his wife, Beth, have three talented children of their own, all possessing the ability to draw and love to draw, according to their father.
“The three year old in particular is drawing some pretty interesting stuff,” he said.
McNeese said his jewelry-making techniques came from working at Epperson’s Custom Jewelers in Cleveland when he was in his early 20s. Even then the gifted youth was seeking ways to perfect his craft. As proof he offered an amusing experience that followed him for years.
“When I was at Epperson’s, Larry allowed me great freedom to play in his shop,” McNeese said. “The very first jewelry carving that I did for him was a miniature carving of a golf bag as a tie tack for one of his friends. The jewelers wax is very difficult to carve. So I did a nice little drawing and had a nice little carving going. But the jewelers wax is also very difficult to get smooth. Now, I’m an obsessive coffee drinker. And I found out that if I took a drink of really hot coffee and rub the wax with my tongue — that it would be smoother. I thought, ‘Wow! This is really a nice trick!’
“It took me two days to complete the carving. I got it finished. It looked good, but it still wasn’t smooth enough. So I took one last big drink of coffee in my mouth and popped the whole wax carving in my mouth and was rubbing it. And guess what? I swallowed it! My very first piece and I swallowed it! Larry was going to cast it into 14 carat yellow gold. I flipped out!”
McNeese said his boss was already getting impatient because it was taking him a little longer than expected and swallowing his first carving was not going to go over very well.
“I recarved another one in two hours!” he said. “It looked just as good as the first one because I had already done it once. I took him the new carving and he said, ‘Avery, this is a wonderful carving. I love it! But I don’t know if I’ll be able to let you do any carving for me because it took you too long.’ I said, ‘Actually, Larry, that one only took me about two hours. I proceeded to tell him about the hot coffee and swallowing my work, and everyone there horse laughed me for at least a year and a half!”
Although he is naturally gifted, well trained and in hot pursuit of perfection in his art, McNeese said he enjoys teaching others the joys of painting and pottery. He even taught a water color class at Cleveland State Community College for ages 8-13.
“If I had to put a style to my paintings I would have to say they are impressionistic. I like thick paint,” he said. “I like to almost sculpt with the oils. Some of my paintings can get up to a quarter of an inch thick with oils. I do thin paintings as well, but I love pushing around the paint! It’s almost like icing a cake.”
Now that the Eager Beader, is on Facebook, McNeese confessed, “I’m getting people from outside the area, which I hadn’t gotten before. With a cameo that I just put on Facebook — it’s gotten over 600 views overnight! It would take me months to be able to get 600 people here to look at that one little cameo. A family from Nashville was going to their summer house in Destin, Fla., and they went out of their way just to come here and see my art, which was awesome!”
When asked how he would describe his life, McNeese took a long pause, smiled and said, “I come in and I work as much stuff as I can from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. I deal with my classes, go home, love my kids and my wife. I wake up and do it again. My talent is God-given and I’m using it — can’t ask for much more than that.”