Artist: Bobby J. McAlister
An artist whom has been given a gift to create life on canvas
By Brian W. Carter
He paints powerful paintings fueled with energy, passion and depth. To look at one of his artworks is to see God given talent and soul. Bobby J. McAlister’s works line the walls of museums, homes, doctor’s offices and even here at the Sentinel. McAlister’s work is something to be admired as he’s painted some of the most poignant figures and concepts in African American history.
Originally from Vernon, Texas, Bobby J. McAlister was encouraged at an early age by his mother to pursue art. “Since I was about 4 1/2 years old” is the tender age when he was moved to paint. An artist herself, McAlister’s mother gave him his first nudge to follow his artistic muse. McAlister received colored crayons and a blackboard from his mother, giving him a glimpse of his future. He would receive further support from Mrs. J.J. Slaugenhop and Mrs. C.L. Henderson, who paid for the lessons that would help cultivate McAlister’s skills. The funding would help him receive help from another woman who owned an art shop whom would teach him the basics.
He attended Booker T. Washington High and went on to attend Texas Southern University in Houston where he majored in fine arts. After his graduation McAlister came to California to pursue his dream only to be derailed by the draft. He served two years in the U.S. Army at Ford Ord, California. Even in the army, McAlister found a use for his talents drawing terrain maps for pilots and troops. He even entered an art contest on Armed Forces Day Celebration taking home first, second and third place trophies. After the army, McAlister married and later divorced producing one daughter from that union. He has since had a grandchild. Surely McAlister has shined as a beacon of inspiration for his family.
McAlister went on to do freelance work in Los Angeles. He was eventually hired by UCLA as an illustrator. McAlister was the first African American to hold the position as an illustrator at UCLA. He worked in the medical department illustrating human anatomy and cell biology. Many of his works can be seen in lecture halls and offices. He worked for UCLA for 22 years before eventually retiring. His exposure to human anatomy and detail only strengthened the pure talent inside. McAlister would go on to do even further extraordinary work.
“I just like to paint” is what he says when asked about his drive. McAlister has painted some of the most influential people of our time from Ancient Egypt to modern day. Most of McAlister’s paintings are in acrylic, which he prefers because they add more to the subjects that he paints. His paintings of “Queen Tiye 1372 B.C.” and “Amenophis 1372 B.C.” show our history’s pride and beauty. One of his paintings, “A tribute to the African American Woman”, marks the passage and power of the black woman. The painting seems to illustrate the sisterhood and legacy of African American women as the faces of an African woman and African American woman face each other.
McAlister’s famous and more well known paintings are “The Magic Touch” and “4 Phases of a Sky Hook”. “The Magic Touch” is a whimsical play on the awesome career, influence and “magic” of basketball great, Magic Johnson. “4 Phases of a Sky Hook” is one his more detailed paintings. The artwork is striking due to its nature in detail. The muscles and the movement make “4 Phases of a Sky Hook” truly memorable. The painting shows the career phases and life changes of another basketball great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. McAlister has stated that he likes painting “the black figures” of our culture and “mainly the famous blacks” that have made strides in history.
McAlister has painted everything from still life to landscapes and seascapes. His work is greatly coveted by many. A local attorney at one time bought 500 of his paintings. The attorney since passed away and some of the paintings went on display at the Dunbar Museum in Los Angeles. He has sold many of his paintings to the community making them affordable to purchase. Some have even decided that his works are valuable enough to take without purchase. Many of his works have been stolen and never been found. When asked how many paintings he’s made, McAlister could only reply “I’ve lost count.” He states that a lot of his inspiration and instruction came from the late John Biggers. A painter, sculptor, teacher and philosopher, Biggers instructed and helped to cultivate and develop McAlister’s talent. Currently McAlister is still doing what he loves best, painting. He’s currently working on a painting entitled “Cotton Pickers.”
Bobby J. McAlister is talented, no doubt about that. He’s been touched by a higher power and given a gift. His paintings are more than just paint on canvas; he’s put his soul on canvas for all to see.