Newberry native Alpatrick McCleary is an engineer technician with Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) by day, and now, the self-taught artist and father of five has been named as an ambassador for the arts for the City of Newberry.
McCleary, 43, was surprised by the title of Portraitist in Residence by Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe who read a proclamation during the Aug. 20 opening night celebration of the new exhibit “Through Black Eyes” at the Newberry Fire House Gallery.
The multimedia exhibit showcases the work of 15 black artists from Newberry and surrounding communities.
At the opening, Marlowe pointed out a watercolor portrait of former Newberry Mayor Freddie Warmack that was unveiled at the Freddie Warmack Center in Newberry two months ago when Warmack was inducted posthumously into the 100 Black Men of Greater Florida organization. That painting was crafted by and unveiled at the event by McCleary, who is Warmack’s grandson.
“The portrait stole the show,” Marlowe said about the event.
In recognition of the portrait McCleary made of Warmack and of future paintings that McCleary has been commissioned to create, Marlowe offered a proclamation.
“Whereas the City of Newberry values art and culture as pursuits that capture the essence of our humanity, and whereas we value our local art and artists as our very own ambassadors towards that goal, and whereas the City of Newberry recognizes the ability of art to speak across generations and preserve moments in our history in beautiful and delicate ways, and whereas Alpatrick McCleary has already proven his ability and willingness to serve his community as an ambassador for the arts by preserving the Newberry’s first African-American mayor Freddie Warmack in a portrait, and whereas this is a service and a gift to his community that can never fully be repaid, now therefore, be it resolved by the virtue of the authority vested in me as mayor of the City of Newberry, I do hereby declare Alpatrick McCleary as Newberry’s official Portraitist in Residence.”
“I was not expecting that,” McCleary said. “That was amazing.”
At the age of 8, McCleary said he discovered his interest in art when he started tracing X-Men and Spiderman characters from comic books.
“I enjoyed them and was intrigued with the artwork,” he said. “The explosions and big words, and the design of it all.”
From that training he said realized he could automatically look at something and, “Could draw them straight, whatever I saw, like a human camera,” he said.
“I see shapes in the lines, I copy those shapes and all of those lines have a puzzle, so I follow the lines and they blend perfectly.”
It wasn’t until 2008 that McCleary started using paints instead of pencil for his artwork.
He was working as a handyman by trade doing apartment turnovers and found paint and a canvas left behind in an apartment.
“I took it home, sketched out a drawing on that canvas,” McCleary said, and then he taught himself about color and how water color paints blend and respond to dilution.
After that, McCleary said he started reading and learning about the different mediums such as acrylic, water color, and oils.
He chose watercolor along with ink because he can control it more, he said. “I liked the way it looked, with the ink in the sketches.”
McCleary landed his first art show at the Fire House Gallery in 2013.
“People enjoyed the art and gave positive feedback,” McCleary said. “I sold a piece and everybody seemed to enjoy the colors that I chose. Those colors made them feel joy.”
McCleary describes himself as a quiet man, “a homebody introvert” who stays to himself.
He played football for Newberry High School before graduating in 1997, studied at Santa Fe College, and eventually worked his way up from a maintenance worker to an engineering assignment with GRU.
Since the debut of the portrait of Warmack, McCleary has taken on commissions of family portraits and landscape paintings.
“I don’t know what’s in store for me,” he said.
According to Marlowe, McCleary’s role is simple.
“He is the city’s official portraitist now,” he said. “I consider him the first of Newberry’s official ambassadors to the arts.”