True Grit

Timothy Callaghan knows you're busy. He expects you to overlook things, pass them by without a second glance on your way to work. In fact, his art depends on it. "Really mundane and awkward things inspire me, things we tend to ignore," says Callaghan, whose new exhibit, Nightshift, runs through Nov. 13 at William Busta Gallery. The 34-year-old artist and part-time professor gathered scenes for his paintings during daily commutes to the Cleveland Institute of Art, Tri-C, Oberlin College and his art studio in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood.

So his landscapes include images of a gas station, a record store, dogs playing and a cat sitting on the hood of a Trans Am. "The image is unique to me," he says, "but since it's a public space, I know even if the viewer hasn't seen that particular scene, they've seen something similar."

Callaghan draws inspiration from Great Depression artists who painted their neighborhoods to feed their families. He follows their philosophy, too. In fact, it's scribbled on his wall for when he loses track: "It's not what you paint; it's how you paint it."

He aims to elevate an image into something else, something better. "Painting is its own language, a conversation between the artist and the viewer," he says. "I start the conversation, and my viewers carry it forward in their own direction, and that conversation — if it's a good painting — goes in ways I never imagined."

It's that unique perspective and discussion of what something could be that drives Callaghan to focus on his hometown. "Cleveland is what I'd like to call a really good Blues song, not tragic but an overcoming of hard times, a celebration of persistence and naive optimism that's really beautiful."

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