Never mind the fact that he was born some 600 years too late, Leigh J. McCloskey is every bit a Renaissance Man. Not someone stuck in the past, but someone part of what he calls an “emerging Renaissance.” An accomplished actor, McCloskey may best be known for his role as Mitch Cooper from the TV series Dallas. Through Julliard, to a career in TV/film spanning nearly 4 decades, McCloskey’s acting resume would seem creative enough for two lifetimes. After spending a day with him in the Hieroglyph of the Human Soul, however, you’d soon realize that McCloskey is concerned with much more than just playing a part. Indeed, spending time IN the Hieroglyph of the Human Soul. Entering the artist’s home only to see the room devoted to this craft of mixed media, brushstroke, and imagination, it would be easy to dismiss the Heiroglyph as a floor-to-ceiling, corner-to-corner rendition of archetypes in acrylic paint. However, after a few moments dissolving into the splendor of a work like this, objectivity takes a back seat. Add 3-D glasses with well-executed storytelling, and objectivity gets thrown out altogether. I thought I had come to hold an interview, but within minutes I realized the standard Q & A would not suffice: “Unscrew the locks from the door! / Unscrew the doors themselves from the jambs!” to quote Whitman, and this rallying cry provides the necessary architecture to describe a person who may very well be the last of the cave painters.
Leigh considers his career in show business to be a patron, allowing him the freedom to explore painting and metaphysical architecture without being subject to commercialism. His background as an actor may be played down as a source of funding, but Leigh’s ability to connect with an audience enhanced my viewing experience more than if I were to come upon the same work in a gallery or museum. In his home, his cave painting serves as a way to entertain, to pass along tradition, to demonstrate “where the art is, and to remind us where the heart dwells.”
Looking at the complexities of the Hieroglyph shows McCloskey’s success at using religious themes in a very contemporary way. Like the philosophers of the Renaissance who are credited with moving art from the religious into the secular, so too is McCloskey interested in the next shift in the artistic milieu. The result: A daily habit that connects images of Eve from the Judeo-Christian tradition with the likeness of Taoism’s Quan Yin represented in equal measure. But it’s more than the juxtaposition of symbols and cultures. The visual acuity matched with the caliber of storytelling is what makes this thing tick. Or not tick exactly; rather, it becomes the force which stops the clock.
I did my homework researching Leigh J. McCloskey the painter, whose father (also a painter) encouraged him, “When you can no longer explain something, then paint it,” whose technique had been honed by projects like the eighteen years he spent illustrating the Major Arcana of the Tarot with painstaking detail, whose grasp of philosophy both eastern and western is as evident in the brush as it is in the narration. But no amount of research would have prepared me for my experience. At some point in the afternoon, the Hieroglyph ceased being just art and instead transformed into a crash course in humanities and particle physics, as it rendered the colorful by-products of modern mysticism. An afternoon? More like an out-of-body experience that Hubble himself would envy.
The resonance left me feeling that it would be more appropriate to paint a picture or write a poem, rather than report who, what, when, where, and how. . . but why? I wanted concrete facts since inspiration is such a tricky thing to discuss. I wanted to ask blithely about tools and supplies, about process—the safe questions about color theory or how he gained proficiency in figure drawing. Unfortunately, such questions would only get me so far.
To be inspired, to be impressed, it’s helpful to lose footing, it’s appropriate to give up some fleeting notion of control. After a while, I abandoned my pen and note pad. Deconstruction turned into participation like alchemist’s lead into gold. Four hours passed in what seemed like forty minutes, and I left sure that I had only a fraction of the details, considering that the painting was four years in progress! Part soliloquy, part alchemy, through the storyteller, against the cyclorama of color and symbol, I was transformed from a journalist into a character during this play on what Leigh deems “visual philosophy.”