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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    August 2008


Observer of Life

Artist, actor and playwright Tim McAndrews gets ready for the next scene — a staging of his original play at the Deming train depot.

Story and photos by Donna Clayton Lawder

It's puzzling that a voice that at once seems so familiar could prove so difficult to pin down.

Tim McAndrews walks around his Deming gallery, Art in the Alley, talking about his artwork. His loose-jointed frame clad casually in jeans and a windowpane-checkered shirt, he ambles around the place, pointing out the oil-painted landscapes and portraits hanging on one wall, the watercolors and drawings on another.

Tim McAndrews with a painting featured in "SoQ."

He's getting ready to shut the place down, he explains, shipping 40 pieces of his work to be exhibited at the Blue Gate Gallery in Las Cruces beginning next month. Other works will continue to hang locally at Joe Perk Coffee Shop in Deming, he says, and some at the Patio Cafe restaurant in Columbus, where McAndrews makes his home.

He gets a tender smile as he points out a painting and remembers the subject, his old dog. The work was included in SoQ, a 2004 Museum of Fine Arts invitational exhibit featuring artists living south of Albuquerque.

Getting this personal tour from McAndrews in his gallery's waning days is like visiting with a favorite uncle. And all the while, there's that voice — somehow strangely familiar, yet elusive.

"I've gotten to the point where running this gallery is just holding me down," he says with a smile and a shrug. "I'm thrilled to be showing at Blue Gate, and now I can focus on the theater project."

After nearly two decades in the Southwest, McAndrews still has a noticeable New York accent and has New York stage experience. That "city boy" edge gave a distinctive, believable quality to the somewhat crusty, hard-boiled retiree he played in The Duck Variations, the play by David Mamet produced last year at the now-defunct Bel Canto Theatre in Deming (see Desert Exposure, April 2007).

But there's something more behind the voice — a rolling cadence that seems so familiar, famous even. McAndrews goes on about his theater project, his words rolling like water in a creek, gently and lightly sliding into each other. It gives his speech a quality that seems friendly, even funny somehow.

He gives a dry little laugh and suddenly the light comes on. That's it! Groucho Marx!

"Oh, yeah, I do get that sometimes," McAndrews says with a smile. "Say the secret woid," he jokes right on cue, getting a little signature Groucho eyebrow action into the mix.

McAndrews is most excited right now over the prospect of a play he has written being performed locally — at a very unusual venue.

"The city still has to approve it, but we're looking to stage it at the train depot," he says. He describes the work, Halfway to Nowhere, as a musical comedy. "We produced it a while back at the Adobe Deli, but I'm looking forward to it having a bigger audience." The depot would be able to hold about 100 patrons, he adds. "I think that's just about perfect for a community-theater venue. It's easy to fill, it's a respectable audience, and there's still not a bad seat in the house."

McAndrews is hoping to stage his play by September. His partners in the venture are fellow actor F. Barry Dunleavey, his co-star in The Duck Variations and another New York-credentialed sizeable fish in this small pond, and McAndrews' companion, Barbara Agte, a costume designer and artist.

The stage and the easel provide McAndrews with complementary mediums for expression. In the theater, he conveys his characters with broad strokes and fine lines — appearance and body language on the one hand, precise timing, cadence and subtle vocal quality on the other. Likewise, his works on canvas and paper have a theatrical quality, the portraits in particular capturing a range of human emotion.

"Portraits are a way to mix painting and drama. The story is there, in the faces, in the interaction. It can be depressing, serious, erotic," he says. "I love to do people. If I were back in New York, I'd be painting the people in the coffee shops. Like this," he says, pointing out, "Conversation," a somewhat impressionistic oil painting of two people talking. "Landscapes sell more readily, especially watercolors. And I do those, too. But what Blue Gate wants me for is people, and I'm thrilled to give it to them."

Though much of the work around him is in oil paint, these days he does a lot more work with watercolor.

"Well, I teach it and I do it the most, so maybe it's even becoming my best medium," he says. He first taught watercolor at Deming's Galleria 200, now no longer in existence. He's offered classes twice a week at his own gallery since opening last November, and will continue to teach in the area.

Back in New York, McAndrews owned and operated a taxicab business for 10 years. He attended the School for Visual Arts in New York City and subsequently got a job as an assistant art director. He did some work in the theater and worked at an advertising agency before going back to school for fine art.

"I got tired of drawing for commercial design," he says. "I thought I might as well learn to do it better, classically, as art."

He attended the Art Students League in New York, then moved to Santa Fe in 1990. "I wanted to try to make it as a real artist," he says, then gives a Groucho Marx-like pause worthy of a drum roll, before adding with a laugh, "just like everybody else in Santa Fe!"

Ten years later, a trip to Palomas, Mexico, for some dental work acquainted McAndrews with Columbus. He stayed on, making the little New Mexico border town his home in 2000.

Sitting back comfortably in a chair, in the middle of his gallery that's on its way out, McAndrews muses on the different treatments he's given the faces in his paintings. In "Conversation," the people are rendered almost crudely, their angular features captured in quick, sharp strokes. In "The Death of Wild Bill Hickok," the characters are more detailed, yet also more cartoon-like, like an Old West movie scene. They are more literal than the individuals in "Conversation," yet simultaneously less real. And in another, "Guitar Lesson," a small boy sits on the lap of an older man, perhaps the child's grandfather, learning to play the guitar. This portrait is more photographic, the warm hues capturing the warmth of the afternoon and the tender interaction.

"What draws me to the arts is the human condition," McAndrews says. "It's not just what you see, like the newspaper is just facts, but also a sort of fiction. It's what the artist puts in there to tell the story.

"That fiction part, that's a guy saying, 'Here, try this out. See if you agree with me.' That's painting — to be the observer of life, and then to convey it. And that's play writing, too, come to think of it!"

Tim McAndrews' work will be shown at Blue Gate Gallery beginning the weekend of Sept. 6. 311 N. Downtown Mall, Las Cruces, 523-2950. Joe Perk Coffee Shop, 122 E. Spruce St., Deming, 544-0141. Patio Cafe, 25 Broadway St., Columbus, 531-2495. mcandrewstimothy@yahoo.com, 531-2440.



Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.



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