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Abstract Expressionism Meets Impressionism In A Taunton Lake Studio

Published: May 2, 2015

Shannon Hicks

    Dick McEvoy is an oil and pastel painter who has always been influenced by the Abstract Expressionist and Impressionist art movements. For years he has created contemporary Impressionistic landscapes in pastel and oil, and Abstract Expressionist paintings in oil with a palette knife.

    It has taken a number of years to arrive at his current point: an emerging art form of his own creation, called Abstract Impressionism. The paintings are somewhat abstract at first glance, yet they present Mr McEvoy’s impression of a moment in time.

    “With Abstract Expressionism,” he said, referring to a familiar term, “there’s no picture that you recognize. There’s no landscape.”

    With Abstract Impressionism, said Mr McEvoy, “when you get close to these things, there’s just squiggles. They’re masses of color. But from away, you see the landscape. I want you to see a landscape, but I want to do that not with brush strokes but with a palette knife and sticks.”

    Mr McEvoy, who lives and works in Newtown, is inviting the public to visit his studio later this month. Visitors will see some of the award-winning pieces that have filled his oeuvre — as well as more than 200 private and corporate collections around the world — on Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17. They will also have an opportunity to view the newest works, which have reignited his love of working.

    “My energy has not flagged,” said Mr McEvoy, who still produces approximately 40 paintings each year. “But it is renewed, certainly.”

    The artist is unaware of anyone else working in this style.

    “I don’t believe anyone else is going anything like this in the United States. I don’t think anyone else is combining the dripping and throwing paint but coming up with a landscape as well,” he said recently, walking around the studio that overlooks Taunton Lake. His works in recent years have been leaning toward abstract, with many showing different views of the lake just outside his home shrouded in fog and mist.

    Recalling a visit in November to the Museum of Modern Art with friend and fellow artist Frank Federico, Mr McEvoy said it was that trip into New York City that planted the idea of merging his two beloved art forms. And while he has become known for his work in oils and pastels, this new chapter has the artist using enamel paint and oils on large canvases.

    “I was reading about painter after painter that I really admire — de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, all these wonderful painters — and kept reading ‘oil and enamel’ in the description of their work,” he said. Enamel, he pointed out, is house paint.

    “I thought, if they can be painting these multimillion-dollar paintings with house paint, why can’t we use house paint as well?” he said. Whether one calls it house paint or enamel, he said, the paint’s loose properties allow an artist to drop and throw it. After the trip to MoMA, the fire was lit. He went to Newtown Color Center on Queen Street and bought 40 cans of paint. Shortly after that, he returned for another 20 cans.

    “The lady there finally asked me what I’ve been doing with all this paint,” he said, laughing.

    The works are created using sticks and palette knives. The “sticks” are usually paint stirrers — “You know, the sticks that you get when you buy paint, I use them as one of the things I use to create the drops,” said Mr McEvoy — or even the handle end of a paint brush. The thin edge of a palette knife allows a smaller drip, he added.

    Mr McEvoy says to create a work, “I drip and fling the enamel paint. I let the paint dry for a little bit, and then I go back in with a clean palette knife and scratch through the same colors that I’ve just put down.”

    His studio floor offers proof of that paint flinging. While it is usually under control, some of the paint has made it beyond the borders of the tarps Mr McEvoy lays down before he begins working on an Abstract Impressionist painting. Small spots on the floor belie his careful approach.

    Mr McEvoy will occasionally go in with oils to define a small area of a painting. “Water View #2 Thru The Flowers,” for instance, is dominated by a patch of wildflowers in the lower and middle thirds of the painting. The upper third, however, was painted with oil to show a river or lake in front of a series of hills or mountains. While less defined than a Realistic painting, the upper third of the painting is surely more defined than its lower sections.

    Looking at the new works, it is easily apparent that Mr McEvoy has long been influenced by Jackson Pollock. He also credits Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Motherwell as leading influences from the Abstract Expressionists. Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cezanne are among his favorite Impressionists.

    “I’m throwing paint like Pollock, but when you step back you can see the landscape,” Mr McEvoy said. “It’s working. I love what I can do with this.”

    Like any Impressionist work, an up-close look at Mr McEvoy’s recent pieces does not give a viewer a clear idea of what they are looking at. From a short distance, however, the abstract drippings and what he calls “palette knife blotches” clearly form landscapes.

    All of the works so far feature wildflowers, which is perfect for the tangled lines created in the first part of the Abstract Impressionistic creative process.

    “The flowers are done with a palette knife, at the end,” he said. “Right now I’m doing squiggles and brambles … I’m dripping color all over the place to start those. And then I go in with a clean palette knife and just, with the edge of the palette knife, so it’s really almost the knife side of it, you’re scraping through and getting these really skinny, skinny little scratches that become thin grasses that pick up different colors.”

    The Abstract Impressionist pieces are presented unframed, which works very well for them.

    “I paint the whole canvas,” he pointed out. “I tried framing a few, and just didn’t like it. It felt like it was closing it in.

    “These things are kind of wild,” said Mr McEvoy, “and they’re better off just dripping right to the edge, over the sides and stuff.”

    The paintings are also large. One currently on view at Mr McEvoy’s studio measures three by six feet, another is 40 inches by 40 inches.

    Mr McEvoy was a guest earlier this month for the Society of Creative Arts of Newtown (SCAN). The organization hosts two public programs each month, with professional artists invited to offer a demonstration of their art.

    Ruth Newquist, a founding member of SCAN, said this week she was impressed with Mr McEvoy’s technique during the April 8 demonstration.

    “He’s doing Realistic work, but he’s approaching it differently,” she said April 28. “The combination of abstract and Impressionist is really kind of compelling. It’s two different areas.

    “I was really taken with his work,” she added.

    The open studio event this month will be one of the first opportunities for the public to view Mr McEvoy’s Abstract Impressionism paintings. He plans to submit a few of the new works for a gallery show in Chatham, Mass. He also expects to put a few up for consideration in the SCAN Spring Juried Art Show & Sale, which will be on view at C.H. Booth Library in Newtown May 2-10.

    “It’ll be interesting to see what the judges think of them,” he said.

    Following the SCAN presentation, Mr McEvoy said, a few attendees asked him is he is concerned with the archival qualities of enamel, or house paint. Will it last like other paints traditionally used by professional artists, they wanted to know.

    “I said, ‘OK, let me just say this: Toulouse-Lautrec used to paint on cardboard, in brothels and bars, on pieces of cardboard. They’re corrugated. And those same paintings — you can see the cardboard showing through — are in the Metropolitan, they’re in the Louvre, they’re in the Musée d’Orsay.

    “So if he didn’t worry about archival 150 years ago,” he said with a slight laugh, “why are we? I think it is archival, however. I think the paint will last and last. But I’m just not going to worry about that.”

    Instead of worrying about something he cannot control, Mr McEvoy is enjoying this new discovery of his.

    “I just love what we can do with this,” he said. “This is a much freer use of paint and utensils.”

    The McEvoy Studio is at 51 Taunton Lake Road. The open studio event on May 16 and 17 will take place from 1 to 4 pm each day. For additional information call 203-426-8308, send e-mail to dickmcevoy24@gmail.com, or visit dickmcevoypaintings.com.