Note: all of the above paintings include frames (not pictured)
Katherine McNenly’s work resonates with depth and seizes the challenge of working from life within the realist tradition, conveying the essence of her subjects by meticulously reproducing the subtleties of light and colour. She strives to express an idea, a memory or a glimpse of beauty in the true tradition of this genre. McNenly’s work is extremely personal, yet it provokes a curiously familiar response from the viewer. Her delicate play of light and how it interacts with form stirs recollections of people, places, and objects which draws those memories forward from our subconscious to the conscious.
Katherine is originally from Northern Ontario. She attended York University in Toronto, completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1986. In pursuit of a more formal education, McNenly studied with renowned portrait artist and teacher John Michael Angel at the National Portrait Academy in Toronto. It stressed a traditional approach to painting based on the techniques and materials of the old masters. She continued her education in Florence, Italy in 1990 at the atelier Cecil-Graves, a 19th century realist-inspired atelier. She has been a finalist in the Kingston Portrait Prize, The International Artist Magazine Still Life competition and most recently she was awarded an Honour Award at the prestigious International Portrait Society of America 2012 held in Philadelphia. Her still lifes and portraits are in collections across Canada, the United States and Europe.
“The Dutch and Spanish realists of the Golden Age have influenced me the most. Artists like Vermeer, worked up their paintings in a multi layered approach. Each layer is a foundation for the next, ultimately building up to the desired finish. It is a very slow approach to painting, but I love the possibilities that a layered technique can provide. There is an opportunity to utilize transparency and opacity in paint, and build interesting colour effects and textures, by varying the opacity of paint. This process allows the artist to better represent a naturalistic reality. This traditional approach to painting allows one to methodically make decisions about colour, tone and the drawing throughout the painting process. Much of the work is painted from life with natural light, allowing for an intense study of the nuances of colour and form and a deeper connection with the subject.”
August 4-30, 2015: KATHERINE McNENLY – QUIESCENCE
still life and portraiture in the realist painting tradition
at General Fine Craft, Art & Design
The exhibit’s title suggests a sense of tranquility, peace, being in the moment… all things that one may feel when looking with care at Kathy’s incredible oil on linen paintings. She works within a very traditional genre, one which dates to Old European Masters. The technique involves building up many, many translucent layers of oil paint to achieve depth and luminosity.
McNenly paints exclusively from life, which gives an entirely different quality of tone than the more common practice of using photography as a source. She spends many hours with live models to achieve highly compelling portraits with thoughtful presence. Capturing a likeness from life requires immense skill; as the sitter moves and breathes, the painter has to find the essence of what’s happening in real time to achieve insight into the subject.
As well, her carefully constructed still life compositions exude balance and a playful use of perspective, their surfaces full of amazingly subtle nuances of light and shadow that accurately describe form, texture and reflected light.
McNenly has been a finalist in The Kingston Prize (Canada’s premier bi-annual portrait competition) and The Portrait Society of America’s International Competition (Award of Merit, 2012). These accomplishments and others place her within an internationally distinguished group of realist painters working today.
Please join us at the opening reception and artist’s talk: Friday August 7, from 7-9pm. All are welcome
A Portrait of Note: The Beekeeper by Katherine McNenly essay by Chandler Swain
Since I began to study art in a serious way, coming to art college from a technical art program in high school, the portrait has intrigued me. I loved life drawing and had a bit of facility with it. But getting the look of a person’s face with a drawing was the most difficult and with paint: forget it. The teeniest diversion from the proportions ruined the effect: the inability to pick up nuance on the angle of the chin, the length of the nose, the thickness of the lips, the slight curve of a brow….an endless series of interrelated elements that morph with subtlety from one part of the face to another. Done from a photograph, a portrait, unless interpreted by a very accomplished artist is very ordinary in its stilted, lifelessness…these are very common. The light never changes, the subject never moves or tires. The sitter’s mood is..well…there is no mood. It is just a representation of a face copied from a static image.
Then there is a portrait by an artist. An artist whose work makes you stop in your tracks. What is it about the artwork of a master that grabs you? This is such a compelling question and has driven collectors since humans attempted to communicate about the human form through visual means. We could look to the famous examples of the art. Works by Rembrandt let’s say…or Leonardo. Why is the Mona Lisa proclaimed such a treasure? What can we take from her smile? What do we gain from gazing at her gazing at us? Maybe it is that there is no concrete answer that keeps us speculating. Regardless, a beautifully rendered portrait is as compelling to us as the human face is to a newborn.
The more we know about how difficult it is to achieve the je ne sais quoi of a human face, rendered by someone wielding a small stick with animal hair bristles attached to it that hold the earth pigments of lead white, carmine, sienna, cobalt and the rest, suspended in oil, the more we are in awe.
Well, think of all this and the masters that have come before: Sargent, Gainsborough, ..good heavens the list goes on: and then look at the portrait now hanging at General Fine Craft Art and Design in Almonte by local painter Katherine McNenly. McNenly is considered one of finest portrait artists in Canada, and perhaps in the world. We can make this claim as her portrait received an award of honour at the American Portrait Society International Competition in 2012 http://www.
If she was a race horse owner, tennis player or a rock musician this would be BIG NEWS!
Well, cheekily I admit, I thought perhaps I would write about how big this news is for me: a newly minted gallery co-owner. I saw Kathy’s painting in the Kingston Portrait Prize show for 2007. I knew she had a piece in this show: Big News. This is THE show to be included in, in Canada. I went to see the exhibition when it was at the ROM in Toronto. There it was: a small, quiet, beautiful self portrait. Understated and sublime. I was delighted it had made the cut as it seemed one of the requisite attributes of the portraits on view was to be somehow outrageous and have troublesome mood, quirky composition and attitude. Kathy’s work was straightforward excellence in terms of an artist making a visual statement about a person. It was classic and traditional. It was an inspired addition to the show. These were the best portraits painted in Canada that year. Quite a coup.
Then last year in our Humm newspaper I saw the article telling of Kathy’s award in the big international show. They included a photo of the painting. Its has been on my studio wall ever since. And since we opened the gallery this spring, I knew there was art I wanted to show just for my own satisfaction. Art that would make people stop and pay attention. Included on this list was the Bee Keeper portrait from the US competition. I asked Kathy about it but it was being shown at another gallery. Rats. Foiled. We have had two other paintings by Kathy on display since we opened in April. A wonderful nude and a still life with white roses. Both exquisite. However I still wished we could get our hands on The Beekeeper. The subject of the painting is somehow familiar. A woman of a certain age with long silvered hair, braided, wise eyes and serene expression. She stands in a field with her hives in the distance. She is in her keeper’s gear. She cradles a large jar of new honey. It is a moment we understand. We can sense her stopping in this moment to look about her domain of green fields determining what comes next in her day. But it is the expression in her eyes that keeps us riveted. What is the thought, right now that consumes her? That stops her in her busy day. A bee keeper is calm and one with her hive and their world of flowers. Is this what we see on her face? Serenity. The expression of one in balance with her world. Perhaps this is what one longs for. Surely there is uncertainly in her world but she is in unfazed nonetheless. We are reassured.
Fast forward to a hot rainy day in the middle of July. I am in the gallery thinking about how much I would love an Equator Americano but its too late in the day….I should be tidying something…then all of a sudden Kathy comes through the door with a very interesting looking brown paper package of just the right size and shape. Could it be? It is! The very painting. All this to say, lucky Millstone readers: you heard it first here: a painting of international repute is hanging at our most humble gallery. I am delighted and call co-owner Richard Skrobecki to tell him the news trying to sound casual. I want all the credit for this. But as usual: we are who we are because of those who collaborate with us. And such is the gallery. A real team effort if there ever was one. So much risk! So many decisions. So much art.
But for now, having Kathy McNenly’s oil on linen portrait feels like our team is doing OK. We have created a place that does it justice. Right here in Almonte. By the way, Kathy has also just had a painting accepted into this year’s Kingston Portrait Exhibition. Congratulations to a superb painter. Thanks Kathy for letting us exhibit this world class painting.