Plein air painter Jack McGowan presents a collection of American Southwest landscapes to inspire concern for the sustainability of our environment. Visit his website to see more.
I’m a plein air painter living and painting in Santa Fe. My path to this point was unusual, as I spent a career in clean energy before starting a painting development plan that blends self-taught and tutorial training.
I started painting while teaching at the Zuni Native American Pueblo in 1975. I was fortunate to learn from Alex Seowtewa, who is known as the Michelangelo of the Southwest.
Life intervened and I didn’t paint again for forty years. As a lifelong learning advocate, I began to study and was lucky to meet Sally Delap-John soon after developing rudimentary painting skills. She introduced me to plein air painting in the beautiful village of Truchas. Since then, I’ve studied with numerous world class artists and continue self-study to reinforce skills.
Two primary motivations for my work are 1) the unbridled fun of painting outdoors, and 2) creating compelling images to evoke esteem for the environment and a desire to preserve it.
Profound appreciation for our planet and a conviction to preserve it were drivers for my successful career in clean energy. After retirement, I wanted a new pursuit that allowed me to spotlight my passion for sustainability. I wanted to begin painting again. These ideas blended serendipitously.
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I coined the term Sustpaintbility to highlight these ideas. Together with the power of art, I hope to evoke feelings about the earth and perhaps change behavior. To prep and finish paintings, I built the most energy-efficient futuristic art studio in North America. There is growing interest among painters in using safer materials and practices to create art—what I call Archival Sustpaintbility. I believe this will spawn a new trend in Green Art Collecting.
How do I select images to paint? “Management” by walking around, immersion in the company and employees, was my business style while in clean energy. “Composition” by walking around is what I do now. Rather than setting up and starting to paint, I take time to walk around and observe the landscape including color, light and shadow.
Then I ask myself, “What attracted me to this scene?” I formulate a design concept that leverages a point of interest.
Collectors often remark that my use of color draws them to my work. Color has captivated me over recent years, and I recall a great tip to “spend more time working color on the palette before touching brush to canvas.” Beginning with hue and judging the application of value, color temperature and Chroma, my focus is rendering color that brings what I’m seeing to life through paint. I love applying vivid color and then adding either warmer, cooler or complimentary colors to create emphasis on the focal point and aerial perspective. The goal is evoking appreciation for the landscape in finished works.
Time is precious for plein air painters. Although conditions change constantly, we still need to take time to develop the creative process as it is critical to the final painting. I try to create balance in my landscapes by including elements of humanity—villages, churches, pickup trucks and barns. This creates a counterpoint between nature and humanity. It raises a simple question about how we can meaningfully coexist without damaging the earth. Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Southern Colorado offer endless inspiration for me.
I’m a member of Plein Air Painters of New Mexico and the Oil Painters of America.
Artist Jack McGowan invites you to follow him by visiting the Santa Fe Art Collector Gallery.
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