‘It Can Be Messy’: Dan McAvey on His Life as an Artist

by | Jan 2020

Photo: Rachel Nadeau

Two years ago, Dan McAvey quit his job as director of residential life and housing at St. John’s University in Collegeville to follow his artistic dreams.

One look at the walls of Dan McAvey’s Champlin house, and it’s evident that artistry runs in the family. Decorating them are paintings created by McAvey, a painter and educator, and the whimsical, improvisational handiwork of the daughters he shares with his wife, Laura. When Piper, 9, and Teagan, 6, see McAvey hang his art, they want to do the same. “This is a new addition,” says McAvey, pointing to a rainbow-colored ribbon in the dining room. “I didn’t even notice it until this morning.”

As with his daughters, McAvey was fascinated with art at a young age. Drawing was his go-to-activity growing up in Iowa and then Maple Grove. He remembers making a little town out of construction paper that he taped to a wall. “That was all about creativity and imagination because I would have this little town I could play with,” he says. “I was a kid, and I wanted to play. I was able to use my brain that wasn’t necessarily for academics but was creative and involved colors and shapes and fun.”

Two years ago, McAvey quit his job as director of residential life and housing at St. John’s University in Collegeville to follow his artistic dreams. As an artist, McAvey says he’s both self-taught and college-educated. Though he doesn’t have an art degree, he took many art classes in college and during his 20 years working in higher education. “Art had been on the back burner for a long time,” says the Osseo High School alum, who has a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota.

McAvey works in his basement, either painting still-life subjects or landscapes with oil or creating abstract work through a technique called acrylic pouring. The Maple Grove Arts Center, the Maple Grove Government Center and several local businesses have featured his work.

McAvey also teaches at the arts center (where he also serves as the adult education director and on the Board of Directors), Anoka-Hennepin Community Education and Maple Grove Parks and Recreation. His goal is to get a second master’s degree, so that he can teach art at the college level. “I love sharing something that I’m excited and passionate about with students and seeing their excitement when they make something,” he says.

Most of McAvey’s paintings are representational. His still-life compositions focus on one or two elements, while inspiration for his landscape paintings comes on hikes or photos from family trips, striving to find beauty in everyday objects and scenes. “I’m attracted to the overall composition and striking colors and light more than a particularly accurate drawing,” he says.

McAvey moved into acrylic pouring about two years ago. His foray into what he calls the “totally abstract medium” began when one of his students wanted to learn about it. The technique entails pouring acrylic paint onto a surface, sometimes one color at a time, other times pouring multiple, layered colors all from one cup. Blowing through a straw, running a comb over it or even hitting it with a rubber mallet move paint along the canvas.

“There’s a lot of freedom and creativity to it,” McAvey says. “If you’re painting a still life or a landscape, you’re trying to make it look like something. With this, you’re not trying to make it look like something. You’re just trying to take different colors and put them together in a way that is pleasing to look at. It’s more about playing with paint and seeing what comes of it.” McAvey says the biggest challenge with acrylic pouring is how to do it without destroying your house—“It can be messy,” he says.

Dan McAvey
Facebook: Dan McAvey
Instagram: @danmcavey

Maple Grove Arts Center
Facebook: Maple Grove Arts Center


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