Dennis McGonagle: Biography

Dennis McGonagle has been painting urban landscapes ever since 1974, when he first enrolled in Jerry Romotsky’s Advanced Painting Class at Rio Hondo College. Romotsky encouraged his students to find beauty in their surroundings and daily lives, and to look to the great painters of art history for inspiration. It was in Romotsky’s class that McGonagle developed his colorful plein-air style that blended the gritty subject matter of the Ashcan school with the magical realism of the Mexican muralists.

In 1987, the publisher of the Whittier phone book commissioned McGonagle to paint an urban landscape of the Uptown business district for the cover of his telephone directory. This “fine art” phone book became such a hit, the publisher asked McGonagle to create a new painting for the book every year for the next ten years.

In addition to painting and regularly exhibiting his landscapes, McGonagle has painted more than twenty murals for the walls of schools, businesses, and homes in many Southern California cities. Four of these murals can be seen on the Whittier College campus, where McGonagle held the position of campus mural painter while working toward his bachelor’s degree in fine art.

McGonagle was a member of the Whittier Scholars Program, which allowed him to design an educational plan that focused on painting, Mexican art history, and Spanish. His senior project involved traveling to Mexico, where he studied first-hand the murals and paintings of Los Tres Grandes; Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, while immersing himself in the Spanish language. “My art and my life were transformed by the experience,” McGonagle stated upon his return from his journey to Mexico. “I was transported by the energy of Orozco, the poetry of Rivera, the innovation of Siqueiros.”

McGonagle has been working as a teacher and visual arts mentor for the Whittier City Elementary School District for the past ten years. This connection has resulted in many more mural projects. The walls of Lincoln School where he teaches are covered with McGonagle murals. McGonagle has also found the time to direct mural projects in nearby Fullerton and create paintings for a bus shelter in Brea.

McGonagle recently graduated from Cal State Long Beach with an MFA in studio art. For his MFA exhibition, McGonagle developed a new approach to painting that took him off the streets and into the studio. I called the show, The Landscape of Memory,” McGonagle said, “The project grew out of my desire to create a new kind of landscape painting. The paintings represented a fusion of real and imaginary places: the Monument Valley desert I drove through during my days as a Greyhound bus driver, and the quirky still-lives created in my studio. The resulting images are spatially and contextually ambiguous. The line is blurred between what is real and what is imaginary’.

McGonagle is currently on a one-year leave of absence from his teaching job. During this "year of art" He has painted a 1200 square foot mural for the Whittier Museum and gone on a month long landscape painting journey to Pennsylvania. He plans on titling his exhibit of fall forest scenes, "The Hunt for Red October".


Contact Dennis McGonagle at:

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