Vermillion Cliffs Paintings

These paintings were inspired during my residency at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I needed to drive into Flagstaff mid residency and the trip took me by Vermillion Cliffs. The cliffs themselves rivaled the Grand Canyon in the richness of their color and textures, but what captivated me were the cloud formations over the cliffs that day. We all have occasions to see a clouds that resemble natural forms in the ever-changing masses of moisture that roam through the skies, but the formations that day were extraordinarily clear in their suggested likenesses. The raven and rattlesnake are such important creatures to the native people of this desert that to see them floating over these great cliffs seemed  a request to become paintings that could not be denied. They are now two pieces in my ongoing Sentient Landscapes series.

Vermillion Cliffs #1, acrylic on panel, 16" X 20", 2011, Mark W. McGinnis
Vermillion Cliffs #2, acrylic on panel, 20" X 16", 2011, Mark W. McGinnis
Vermillion Cliffs #2 detail

Mark W. McGinnis Open Studio — Oct. 22, 4-8pm

Grand Canyon #1, Acrylic on Panel, 16" X 20". 2011, Mark W. McGinnis

Mark W. McGinnis Open Studio

Saturday, October 22, 2011, 4:00 – 8:00pm

 4477 W, Emerald Street, Suite C250, Boise ID, 83706


You are cordially invited to Mark W. McGinnis’ Fall Open Studio. Featured artwork will include acrylics, black ink paintings, and watercolors from the artist’s recent residency at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Also on display will be 36 paintings from the McGinnis’ Walt Whitman project (this marks the half-way point of the series). Please feel free to bring friends.

Whitman #35, Acrylic on Paper, 8" X 8", 2011, Mark W. McGinnis

Essay of the Month: Why Do I Make Art?

Grand Canyon #4, Acrylic on Panel, 16" X 20", 2011, Mark W. McGinnis

After over 40 years seriously trying to make the
stuff, it seems a rather strange time in my career to ask myself such a
question. At different points in my life the answer would have been quite
different. When I was young there was a great challenge involved in making art.
As my proficiency grew there was the recognition gained. Sometimes I felt my
art could inspire my students who wished to be artists. Several times in my
career I was making art for the pure joy of creating color, texture, shape, and
making new visual experiences for myself and the viewer. At times I felt I was
trying to communicate things with my art that needed to be said on a social
level. I used the process of making art as a self-education tool gaining
knowledge in politics, economics, and religion. I used art to embellish and
hopefully add new dimensions to literary works.

But the real question is why do I make art now? I am
no longer teaching. I have a little trickle of retirement income that keeps me
from starving (and my art never did sell and still doesn’t).  I have lost my youthful fervor and conviction
that my art could change the way people think. So why continue to make it? I
could read, or stream Netflix all day. I could go for long strolls in nature. I
could go to the gym and have a leisurely swim, sit in the whirlpool and steam
room. I could play cards with or go to the movies with Patricia. I could get
lost in the endless amusements of the Internet. I could take up a hobby like
woodworking or papermaking. There are many ways I could keep busy but I keep
making art (and it keeps piling up).

Maybe I should look at each types of art I continue
to make and think about why I make each variety — watercolor sketching first,
because it is the easiest. It is simply fun. To sit out in nature, let your
head go blank, and make a quick impression of some element of your surrounding
is a therapeutic exercise. Next black ink painting – being in the continuum of
this painting tradition has great appeal to me, although I am certainly no
purist. To sit and grind your ink and then use a brush and paper as artists did
1500 years ago has great appeal to me. This being my most recent medium it is
also still very challenging which takes me back to very early motivations for
making art. My literary projects are done with acrylic on paper – they are
small 8” X 8”. I have completed three books totaling over 300 paintings and am
36 paintings into a 72 paintings series based on passages from Walt Whitman.
Many people think of illustration as being very confining, and if done within
limitations it is. I have varied the amount that I limit myself depending on
the project. In my Cloud Messenger book I was truly telling a story and my
approach to the work tries to keep the paintings as an aid in that process. In
my project based on the haiku of Kobayashi Issa I felt a need to maintain a
stylistic approach to match the natural beauty of the short verses. When
producing the 103 painting for my Gitanjali book, following the 103 poems by
Rabindranath Tagore, I did not feel inclined to maintain one stylistic
direction. Something about the freedom and diversity of the literature let me
express myself in with a variety of approaches through the series. In my
current series on Walt Whitman this freedom is without restraint. Whitman’s
remarkable creativity, audacity, and energy give me the opportunity to try to
show some of my own diversity. The reason I enjoy these projects so much is
that, once again, they present such unpredictable challenges both technically
and conceptually.

final body of work I continue to work on is a series of acrylic on panel
paintings titled, Sentient Landscapes.
Or at least that is what they are called now. They began as a series called The Tree of Life and Death. Then I
changed it to Metaphysical Landscapes
– now Sentient Landscapes. Never have
I messed around with a series title so much. Most are 16” X 20” and a few at
24” X 36”. After I had stuffed my daughter’s 4 stall garage ¾ full of my crated
artwork, I swore to keep my work small for the rest of my career, but the urge
to go big again is always there. When I ask myself why I do this series the
answer is not so clear. To me this seems my most “serious” current body of
work. When I recently needed to write something about the series I wrote, “This
series attempts to produce images that go beyond our perceptual abilities and
create visual experiences that make us think in new ways about our relationship
to the natural world.”  Hmm, that sounds
pretty good, but it doesn’t fully express what is happening in the work. Maybe
what is totally happening cannot be put into words, which would be a good thing
for a painting. When I think about art I love – the poetry of Tagore, Whitman
and Mary Oliver, the paintings of Paul Klee, the ephemeral constructions of
Andy Goldsworthy – the connection to the human condition and/or our
relationship to the universe is always given not in explicit terms but in ways
that have the capacity to change with each individual who interacts with it and
expand their consciousness. I do not know if this series will ever reach that
level, but I know that is why I do it.


The bottom line is that I make art because I have to. It is not an
option. I don’t really need the praise anymore (but I never turn it down). I am
confident that I will never reap any marked financial rewards from my work
(maybe my daughter will from all that stuff in the garage when my ashes are
mingling with the mud of some river). But, I will go on making it. With my
later years hopefully will come the common sense to keep it small.


Copyright 2011 Mark W. McGinnis