John Mac Kah

Landscape painting is ultimately about deep observation and creating context that reflects my experiences of the natural world. I am interested in arresting the moment’s perception and I have tried to build a vocabulary to render it in oils. Painting is to a large degree a celebration of those places that survive in the wild state, at the edge; but it is also elegiac and frustrating, as we are losing so much to poor development and environmental exploitation every day.

These exacting hours at the easel are holding on to those inspired, keeping them pure. Technique is about building a usable vocabulary that helps me to explain them. Being knowledgeable in the correct applications of materials and using them in a craftsman-like manner extends my ability in keeping the inspired vision alive. It also helps connect me to the lineage of artists who got out of the studio. They saw the significant power of Nature and tried to render what they experienced with really very humble and native stuff; linen, linseed oil, earth and natural pigments, wood, and hair. Pushing and pulling all this together is no mean feat and a constant challenge.

I have built a visual language around the painters of the American and European work that reflects similar concerns. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, artists raised questions about the relationship of man and Nature and those questions remain valid, if not urgent, with increasing pressures from development and destruction of species and habitat.

While I attended art school at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, I had to go my own way to paint the way I sensed would serve my personal vision. Since the dominant mode of instruction was expressionist and non-objective in the mid 1980’s, I increasingly found I had to search outside of what had become modernist cannon to find what I was looking for. It was not so much that secrets of painting had been ‘lost’ but respect for materials.

Ultimately, I see myself as an American artist, with strong foundations. .My family heritage is grounded in the southeast; one of my great-grandfathers was a cabinet maker who moved in 1842 from Germany to settle near Macon, Georgia. One grandfather took up photography very early before 1900 and had his own commercial photography studio first in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. My father and uncle both worked with him for a time and later in photo-engraving. Visual culture was always part of my family life.
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