If there’s one thing Bruce McColl learned while painting these past three years, it’s to never underestimate the beauty and power of New Hampshire’s rural landscape.
Nearly all of McColl’s paintings on display in McGowan Fine Art’s exhibition, “Flowers, Orchard and Mountains: Paintings by Bruce McColl,” were done on-site, and of those, about 70 percent were made in the midst of the state’s crisp, airy apple orchards. He’s lived in New England for 20 years, New Hampshire for eight, yet it wasn’t till recently that he stumbled upon the state’s outdoor magic.
“I discovered Gould Hill Farm and Mack’s Orchard in Londonderry. … And here I discovered that I am really inspired by nature. I love being outside and being immersed in the landscape,” McColl said in an interview at the Concord exhibition space.
It was about two weeks until showtime — it’s on view April 1 through May 2, with a reception on April 4 — at the time of the interview, and Jessica Pappathan of McGowan Fine Art had arranged the collection downstairs for easy viewing. McColl sported glasses, a short beard and a scarf as he talked about the show, which he says is representative of three years’ worth of work.
The pieces are bright — so colorful, in fact, that it almost takes a second to adjust as you shift from one painting to the next — and, while they’re of landscapes, trees, flowers and mountains, they’re expressed in an abstract way. As anyone who knows McColl’s work well could attest, this is not unusual; he’s a self-described colorist, taking inspiration from painters like Henri Matisse and Hans Hoffman, David Hockney and Vincent van Gogh.
“One of the things I love about painting are the virtues and strengths and characteristics of color. There’s a whole school of painting we can trace, back to the impressionists, and a lot of my favorite painters are representatives of that legacy,” McColl said. “I use color to create tension in the work, expression in the work, and I also use color as a form of abstraction. … Color tends to overwhelm and overtake as the primary element. But I just love color. It’s pretty simple.”
McGowan has shown his work before, but this marks McColl’s first solo show at the gallery. Pappathan was familiar with McColl’s prior work, though; she’d curated his show at Saint Anselm a couple of years ago, and she sees a remarkable distinction between the old and newer pieces.
“They have a movement and an energy to them, which I think you can really only get by painting from life. For me, that was a major difference I noticed from this to his last show,” Pappathan said.
Indeed, McColl has never shown a collection that contained so much on-site work. Ten years ago, he said, perhaps 80 percent of his work was paintings inspired by the studio. They were figures, studio abstractions. This show represents a turn toward using landscape as a primary source of inspiration, which he revelled in this summer while escaping his digital day job as the Currier Art Center director. He’s had quite a busy year, having recently curated the museum’s show, “Transforming Lives Through Art: 75 Years at the Currier Art Center.”
“In my work, I spend a lot of time in the technology-based world. This is the antidote to that. It’s about being alive and in the moment, and the purity of mark-making, for me, has been the most fun,” McColl said.
Most of these pieces are watercolors. Painting on-site is more exciting this way, he said; you can’t take anything back, and every mark is a direct response to the subject.
“I love the look of the orchards, and I love, especially, Gould Hill Farm and the view of the mountains from the orchard,” McColl said.
The farm, he said, has really old trees, the gnarliest of which you’ll see in “Orchard View to Mount Kearsarge.” McColl portrays it with jagged branches to demonstrate its “obvious will to live,” lopsided and stumpy yet still ripe with juicy red fruit.
This painting in particular exhibits his watercolor mark-making technique, complete with whimsical lines and lots of cross-hatching. It’s abstract but still distinguishable.
“As I get more mature, more confident, the work gets to be more abstract. ... I’m kind of giving myself license to have fun out there.”
As seen in the April 3, 2014 issue of The Hippo.