Crawfish Mural by McClellan Douglas

An interview with local multimedia artist McClellan Douglas

by Ryan Finley / Garnet & Black

Mural 5: Crawfish Mural by McClellan Douglas Jr. (@mcclellandouglasart/@interactiveartworks)

Sprawled out on the sidewall of the Columbia Tai Chi and Kung Fu Center on Rosewood Drive, you will find McClellan Douglas Jr.’s vibrant and dynamic crawfish mural. When One Columbia reached out to him to commission him, their initial idea for the space (a mural involving airplanes) didn’t exactly jell with his vision. He thought that they would stop pursuing the project, but after speaking to the small business owners in the area, he had the idea to “do something fun and funky.” To capture the artistic spirit of the Rosewood area and to commemorate the crawfish festival, he had the idea to paint a crawfish playing a steel guitar. Douglas said, “A lot of times, I hate to discount people’s ideas, but you need to let the artist speak for himself because it can dull the piece.” He believed the popping colors of the mural would accurately capture the vibrancy of Rosewood, saying “a bunch of musicians and artists in Columbia live there.” With the initial idea of having the mural on-site for the crawfish festival, unfortunately “as soon as [he] painted it, they moved the damned crawfish festival to the fairgrounds.”

Regardless, the mural is incredibly striking. With the various deep blues encompassing the whole piece, from the water itself to the bubbles to the guitar, the red of the crawfish pops off of the wall. Typical of Douglas’s abstract realism style, the subject is a “realistic element [displayed] in ways that are unique, playing with colors.” Douglas is also incredibly fond of depicting animals in his work, saying that “people have an emotional connection to animals.” Of course, his favorite subject to depict in his works are people because “it’s the most challenging thing to capture, so it’s the most rewarding when I do,” he said.

Douglas is a Columbia native, born and raised, and he has always had an affinity for self-expression. He remembers the first time when he felt motivated to draw/sketch was when he was seven or eight years old. He had been having a consistent nightmare, and his frustrated mother asked him “why don’t you draw the nightmare, throw it in the fire, and burn it?” Douglas did this and never had the nightmare again, and from then on, all he wanted to do was create art. “I’d find books on anatomy, figures, animals, and sit there and practice all the time,” he said. Eventually, he moved on to reading comic books, which “helped [him] create [his] own characters and draw what’s in [his] head, not just what [he] saw.” When asked what was the common thread between all successful artists, he smiled and said “they all spend a lot of time doing it, they all practice.”

After working towards an Associate’s Degree in Arts at Midlands Tech, Douglas became a full-time artist for hire, working on constantly raising the bar with each project. “You get addicted to the challenge of the project,” he said. While he enjoys public art because of the easy exposure, the main aspect he likes about it is the scale. “I want to do a neighborhood or the side of a skyscraper,” he mused, always trying to push the envelope, making each successive commission more extravagant, grand, and sprawling than the last. He also enjoys advocating for small businesses with his art, as “it makes [him] so happy to see the client blown away.”

When asked about his aspirations, Douglas said he wanted to create an art park in a similar vein to Brookgreen Gardens in Murrels Inlet. Even though Brookgreen Gardens “doesn’t really fit with kind of art [he] want[s] to create,” he is committed to using the South Carolina Lowcountry as a backdrop for his fantastical “Alice-in-Wonderland art park with 20 feet mushrooms that change eye-colors and hills with eyes”. He says that the large sweeping branches of the oak trees and the hanging Spanish moss of the Lowcountry is a perfect magical background for his work. “Carving a piece of artwork out of the earth? I can’t imagine a bigger project,” Douglas chuckled.

Douglas’s art is about pushing boundaries, incorporating new forms of media, and advocating for causes he cares about. But, central to his work, is the idea of fun. He laughed, saying that his work is “the fun part, there’s business too, but we’re going to have fun.”