Emerging Artists | John MacDonald

A poetic framework

John MacDonald, Mid-winter Thaw, oil, 12 x 16.

John MacDonald, Mid-winter Thaw, oil, 12 x 16.

This story was featured in the April 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

In classical Chinese poetry, landscape artist John MacDonald has found inspiration that might be as vital to his work as the lessons he has gleaned from great painters like French Impressionist Claude Monet and Tonalist George Inness, whose works he has long admired and studied. The spiritually rich, nature-centric writings of the Chinese poets typify MacDonald’s own interests as a painter, including his discriminating approach to portraying the natural world. “They could suggest a whole world in four lines of text,” the artist says. “That’s what I want to do in my paintings—to convey a real sense of time and place, but say as little as possible by identifying only the absolute essentials. I think Inness did that beautifully. His paintings are abstract yet so suggestive.”

MacDonald, a former illustrator, sources nearly all of his plein-air imagery within just a few miles of his home in rural western Massachusetts, where ubiquitous woods and streams offer him a daily dose of inspiration. “I’ve been painting right outside my studio,” he says. “In the three or four miles around my home, there’s enough to paint for the rest of my life.” In the months ahead, however, MacDonald plans to explore landscapes farther afield, including seascapes off the West Coast, as he embarks on a yearlong sabbatical from his rigorous teaching schedule, which entailed as many as nine workshops annually. “This is a year for me to stretch myself and travel to paint, rather than travel to teach,” he says.

The year has gotten off to a promising start. In January the artist garnered the J. Francis Murphy Award in a national landscape exhibition at the Salmagundi Club for STREAM BEND, a painting inspired by his plein-air excursion into the Adirondack Mountains last year. Though he completed the painting in his studio using reference photographs, they served only as a loose guide as he worked. “If I have to paint from a photograph, that’s fine, because the more the painting progresses, the less I use the photo,” says the self-described formalist, who is most interested in the complementary relationships between values, colors, and shapes. “Ultimately, we are not reporters; we are painters. I’ll change colors and certainly change elements around. Everything has to be edited to make the composition work, which is really exciting.” —Kim Agricola

representation
Greylock Gallery, Williamstown, MA; Lily Pad Gallery West, Milwaukee, WI; Christopher-Clark Fine Art, San Francisco, CA; Warm Springs Gallery, Warm Springs, VA.

This story was featured in the April 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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