Michael McCaffrey

Letting Go of Art “Rules” with Michael McCaffrey

An interview with artist Michael McCaffrey

Savvy painter michael mccaffrey interview with antrese wood - image with text


Do you ever find yourself wondering why you feel like a square peg forced into a round hole when it comes to following art “Rules?” Is there something wrong with you, the system, gatekeepers, or all the above? I was thrilled to sit down and discuss this topic and much more with the artist, Michael McCaffrey. In our conversation, we also touch on his work inspired by his father, the difference between figurative and abstract work, why putting in time matters, and so much more. I can’t wait for you to learn from Michael’s fascinating perceptive and expertise!

Follow the “Rules” or forge your own path?

Are you a rule follower or a rule breaker? Most people who see that question will automatically know which category they fall in. Have you always been on one side of that question, or have you shifted over time? For artist Michael McCaffrey – permission to break from certain art “Rules” evolved. Practically, Michael had to change is approach to painting his father because he simply wouldn’t sit still for portraits. Even when he took photos of his father and brought them to the canvas for a reference point – Michael still had to give himself permission to push the boundaries and create his own set of “Rules.”

A unique take on the familiar

When I first visited Michael’s website, I was like a kid in a candy shop, seriously! Taking a look around at all the different subjects and perspectives he paints is truly inspiring. Most notably, I wanted to hone in on Michael’s work with his father. Michael and I both have parents in their 80’s, and I was curious to hear how Michael’s experience has been spending time and incorporating his father into his artwork. As he observed his father in his home of nearly 40 years, Michael started to notice how his father would pay particular interest and care to one part of his home while neglecting other parts for years. Make sure to check out the images of Michael’s work located at the end of this post – I know you’ll find it as fascinating as I did!

Putting in the time

If you’ve been around the Savvy Painter community for very long, you know that one of the big mantras that we often hear from seasoned artists like Michael is to put in the time at your canvas. It’s tempting to succumb to apathy or indifference, but the truth is, nothing can get you out of a funk quite like time in your studio. It’s also in the studio where you begin to refine and hone your skills as an artist – you can’t microwave skill and success. Think of your time growing and developing as an artist like slow cooking a good meal – you have to give time for those flavors to work together!

Tearing it down and building it up again

While Michael is quick to point out the “Rules” that don’t work for him as an artist – he’s also quick to explain that tearing down inevitably leads to building something in its place. Facing the institutional challenges and personal struggles of life as an artist isn’t easy, but don’t forget that there is a community of peers who can help spur you along. Michael found that through the process of tearing down rules, ideas, or even his own artwork, there was a kind of freedom to reinvent and breath new life into his artwork. What do you think of Michael’s perspective?

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:30] I introduce my guest, artist Michael McCaffrey.
  • [3:00] Michael describes his work.
  • [6:40] Working from photographs and memories.
  • [12:00] Michael explains how his concepts develop from his time with his father.
  • [17:00] Bucking against the “Rules.”
  • [26:30] Abstract vs. figurative work.
  • [32:30] Putting in the time.
  • [37:40] Why Michael likes the idea of deconstruction and reconstruction.
  • [44:30] Change is growth.
  • [48:20] Art that Michael would love to own.


This episode sponsored by:

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Other artists mentioned on this episode

Resources Mentioned on this episode

    • Michael’s website
    • ww.revelite.com – Mention you heard about it on Savvy Painter for a discount!
    • Lucian Freud book Michael mentioned is “Breakfast with Lucian” by Geordie Greig:
Breakfast with Lucian

Connect With Antrese


Paintings by artist Michael McCaffrey

Michael McCaffrey, portrait of his father
A Moment of Silence Between Us
Michael McCaffrey, portait of his father
Dad Reclining
Michael McCaffrey, portait of his father resting
Dad Resting
Michael McCaffrey, portait of his father
Michael McCaffrey, portait of his father in the garage
Last of the Big Singles
Michael McCaffrey, portait of his father

Michael McCaffrey, self portait

Michael McCaffrey, portait of his father
Why Do You Make Me Look So Old


Listener Shout Out

Thank you so much Ken!

If YOU like this podcast, I’d really appreciate it if you take just a few minutes and would leave a review for me on Apple Podcast, or Stitcher. Its super easy to do, and it makes the podcast easier for other people to find.

All you need to do is go to savvypainter.com/review That page has a direct link to Apple Podcast where you can leave a review. It would mean so much to me, and I thank you in advance for that!

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