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Art: Elizabeth Ann James, Columnist
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Michael McEwan, a master of muted grandeur
at Keny Galleries
Michael McEwan working outdoors, engaged in the creative process
of preliminary sketching and note-taking. Photo/Darren Carlson
Twenty-six years ago, the distinguished artist Michael McEwan returned to Columbus from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., to attend graduate school at The Ohio State University. He has been working from a Short North studio above Mary Catherine’s Antiques for nearly ten years. He has been represented by Keny Galleries in German Village since 1986 and by the G.C. Lucas Gallery in Indianapolis for ten years.
“Michael McEwan: Select Paintings” will open at Keny Galleries in German Village on Sunday, September 9 from 2 to 4 p.m. and close on October 1.
McEwan has mastered the muted grandeur of the familiar. Emerging from a vibrant and indestructible Impressionist tradition, he has painted, in acrylics and oils, luminous yet succinct landscapes which celebrate the natural world, which celebrate Ohio’s fields, rivers, and streams.
The new canvases dance with easy lyrical tones that emanate from a lively, deliberate palette.
Still Waters: The Scioto River (36 x 48 inches), an oil on canvas, is certain to be a hit. The Scioto River beckons, runs nearly razor straight across the long canvas, dividing it into misty halves, up and down. McEwan knows how to compose his canvases in an almost mathematical way, yet the affect is never obvious or mechanical. The season is definitely autumn. A forest, or a grove of trees lines the Scioto, the way the river flows – off the canvas, edge to edge. Yet, the result is natural, soft, painterly. The trees glow in oranges, browns, dull golds. McEwan understands close color values, and his hues glow without being bright. A red smudge burns in exactly the right spot, echoed by a smaller red spot. Five white birch trunks illumine the center.
Still Waters: The Scioto River, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in.
Below the trees, the river. It runs in charcoal grays and shadows, the silhouettes of trees – and, yes, it shines without varnish. The Scioto, the Olentangy, these are Columbus rivers, yet they have become universally familiar under McEwan’s brush.
A Beach Painting
Sunrise, Kiawah Island (48 x 48 inches) is a large acrylic painting that seems to levitate. It’s an ocean of pale close-value strokes, and it possesses grandious space and light. I’d like to wade into it! The beach is in South Carolina, but never mind, the radiant depths of all skies and oceans meet here. Pale beach, pale sky, the merest stain of sun against satin – this painting presents a gorgeous abstraction, indeed, an impression that should please the most jaded beholder.
“I used a large flat brush for this,” McEwan said. “The beach is the hardest place to paint. The sun comes up fast and there’s only a moment when it hangs there, and the weather is always a surprise. I get up very early and catch the sunrise.
“When I’m working outdoors, I make sketches and take notes, sometimes I add a wash of watercolor or a touch of pastels. I take some photos, but I don’t rely on them as the only source. I’m a studio painter, but a lot of the preparatory work is done outdoors.”
When gazing at Sunrise, I mentioned Winslow Homer’s ocean scenes. McEwan responded that he feels more affinity with the liquidity of George Bellows (American 1882-1925) and the tranquility of George Inness (American 1825–1894) than he does with the stormy turbulent oceans of Winslow Homer (1836 –1910). Sunrise, Kiawah Island, like some of the work of the old Dutch masters, suggests abstractionism in its use of big space, unobtrusive texture, and “like” pale colors.
McEwan definitely deserves the descriptive “American Contemporary” behind his name.
Old Pasture at Dusk, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in.
McEwan is a productive artist, making 50 to 75 new paintings each year. His exhibit this year at Keny Galleries will feature 24 of his newest works. They range from large to small, from 6 x 6 inches to 4 x 5 feet. When I saw the smaller paintings, propped against walls and lying on a table, some glistened Old Master-like in gold frames. Most of these were river paintings of the Olentangy. But one of them, Old Pasture at Dusk (16 x 20 inches), oil on canvas, depicts former OSU pastureland, and it glows like a Corot sunset. “Corot?” He laughed. “My wife Donna wanted a Corot, so I painted her one. But this isn’t it!
“I played there as a boy; I’ve chased cows. I like to paint places that I’ve seen many times over.
“As a rule, I look, absorb. I make small painted studies and drawings, take backup photos, and often make number charts for colors and values. Getting a scene directly from the computer or a photograph, that’s not my way. I love to drive around, park the car, see the light, twilight or dawn, and I make my notes.
“Yes, all these in the gold frames were painted near the Olentangy River. This,” he said, pointing to a second painting, “is near the Third Avenue bridge near Victorian Village. I do the actual painting in the studio. I work in layers, that is, I paint, and I return to the painting. Having my Short North studio is absolutely necessary.”
McEwan’s somewhat traditional work is fresh, and when I saw Uphill Road (20 x 24 inches), I was startled by my own feeling of deja vu. The artist had gifted me with a small window of memory! A county road runs up the center – Ohio is generally flat, and most of the roads slope, if barely. The scene explodes with an unseen lemon sun. The feel is electric: telephone poles, fences, a large tree to the right. I’m thinking of Rt. 587 near Tiffin, Ohio, not east at all!
One of the most powerful medium-sized paintings is Old Pasture Twilight (24 x 30 inches), a view seen from North Star Road. It includes a storm-damaged tree and an unusual meld of colors.
McEwan paints what he sees, what is near and beloved. His paintings do not fly off the walls; they draw you into them. He does not use hot tech colors or showy brushwork. He’s a poet, a sincere technician who has mastered the fundamentals and knows how to dance with them. He takes the risk of being an excellent painter for the simple love of art.
Uphill Road, oil on canvas 20 x 24 in.
Art, Life, and Cats
The artist is owned by five cats, is married, and lives in a 1928 house in Clintonville. The walls have been painted with carefully chosen colors and are hung, but not crowded, with his paintings, including “the Corot,” and a portrait of his wife Donna who holds a position in Leukemia Research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her portrait is lovely, in the tradition of one of the great portrait painters, John Singer Sargent (American, 1856 –1925).
When I asked him about hobbies, McEwan laughed “Well, I’m a voracious reader, and I can play the guitar after a fashion. I have dozens of them. But, mostly, I paint and I teach painting.”
McEwan describes his father as an engineer who could draw “absolutely everything.” He said that his trips to the major D.C. museums were as important as his classes at Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C.
Michael McEwan’s work may be found in the permanent collections of the Butler Institute of American Art; Schumacher Gallery, Capital University; Swope Museum of American Art; Ohio Northern University; the Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, Indiana; the Parkersburg Art Center, Parkersburg, West Virginia; and in over 400 private and corporate collections. He has been honored with many solo exhibitions in institutions and galleries in Columbus, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Knoxville, San Diego, etc. He served as project artist for St. Brigid of Kildare Church in Dublin, Ohio, where he executed a large apse mural in the church’s main sanctuary and designed over 1200 sq. ft. of stained glass windows. He retains his Artist in Residence position at Capital University’s Schumacher Gallery while teaching painting classes.
Recently, he completed a commissioned monumental portrait in oil, The Young Martin Luther, for the permanent collection at Capital University. When, in conversation at a recent High Road Gallery show, teacher/artist, Karen LaValley referred to McEwan as a “celebrity artist,” she was describing him as a recognized artist who deserves the media attention he has received. On October 5, Keny Galleries will present another landmark show, “Monet’s Giverny: The American Impressionists Art Colony, 1886-1914.”
Keny Galleries is located at 300 E. Beck Street in German Village of Columbus, Ohio.
Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Also visit Michael McEwan's Web site at www.michaelmcewan.com
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