The Curator’s Eye: Hollywood by Northwest

Hollywood by Northwest

At the Federal Way hair salon where Joella Oldfield got her hair done in the ’70s, the beautician’s kid used to grab candy money from the tip jar. Now Oldfield runs the Western Heritage & Art Center at the Puyallup fairgrounds, exhibiting the works of her famous cowboy-painter father Fred Oldfield (see “Obsessed with the Wild West,” August 2009) and many others – including the beautician’s kid, Michael McGrady. But McGrady isn’t dipping into the tip jar anymore; he’s making a splash in Hollywood.

Michael McGrady, Forest Thunder, 2010, oil, 12 x 16 inches

But how did the actor get inspired to be a painter? “Mike saw my dad’s painting show on PBS,” explains Joella. McGrady elaborates: “I fell into the art thing just like the acting thing. At nineteen, I got melanoma, doc gave me a fifty-fifty chance to live. I decided, I’m gonna embrace life.” He ditched law school, took a backpack and $194 and camped in the bushes at a Los Angeles baseball field. One day he accidentally took a Neiman Marcus service elevator, got mistaken for a stock boy job applicant and got hired. A little later he was cast for a two-hundred-dollar modeling job, then a forty-thousand-dollar Sunkist ad, then Gary Busey’s Bear Bryant biopic, then dozens of movies and TV shows (Southland, CSI Miami, 24). “Everything I tried to plan didn’t work out,” says McGrady. “The rest was just me walkin’ through a door that seemed to open.”

When a muralist McGrady’s wife hired for a rich client absconded to Italy with thousands of dollars and the client threatened to sue, McGrady studied some artists – “Raphael, Titian, the whole nine yards” – and painted the faux fresco himself. After that, big stars hired him to do mansion frescoes. Tired of the whimsical frescoes he was creating, the artist eventually switched to easel painting. Frustrated by tedious brushwork, he found Fred Oldfield’s TV show a revelation. “He paints with palette knives! Now I paint with thick impasto, almost a 3-D effect.”

McGrady’s work is all about the nostalgia of a Federal Way boy stuck in LA and yearning for autumn, mountains and rivers with non-concrete bottoms. Forest Thunder captures Mount Rainier waterfalls as glimpsed on his 2009 trip to the family cabin on Mason Lake. “I’m big on color,” says McGrady. “If I see another gray painting I’ll shoot myself.” •


McGrady’s biggest art success prior to Hollywood: Award for a clay frog in third grade

Actor training: Sacajawea Junior High School Drama Department, Federal Way

First LA residence: A rat-infested UCLA frat basement

Current residence: An eleven-acre Malibu ranch

Mural work: Trompe l’oeil cherubs for Melissa Gilbert’s house, Italian fruit vines for David James Elliott of JAG

Next big roles: Detective Sal on Southland, Kathleen Turner’s husband in the Emily Deschanel/Jason Ritter indie film The Perfect Family

Number of minutes it took to sell four paintings at his August solo show at Lee Youngman Gallery, California: 45

Number of McGrady paintings in the Puyallup show: 15

McGrady’s reaction when reunited with Joella and Fred Oldfield: “There were tears in my eyes.”