Down by the Fish Shack (Blue Rocks), 170 x 200 cm. 2018, oil on linen, by Timothy Andrew McGuire, in Joy and Possibility, at the Chase Gallery, Nova Scotia Archives, to June 28.
New York artist Timothy Andrew McGuire came to Nova Scotia “for that scene right there,” he says, pointing to his large, masterful, oil painting of Blue Rocks.
“I saw a music video Joel Plaskett filmed on the South Shore and I said, “‘That’s the stuff I want to paint.’”
McGuire’s first large show in Nova Scotia, Joy and Possibility, is due to acrylic painter Shelagh Duffett, whose booth at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is close to that of McGuire’s partner, Melanie Fontaine, of Meversible.
“I’d had the gallery booked,” says Duffett, “and I didn’t have nearly as many paintings as I’d wanted. My mother has been sick – a lot of caregiving. Tim’s work is amazing and he’s new here. I thought Tim is a painter who deserves to be seen.”
At first glance the two artists appear to have little in common.
He is a professionally-trained, oil painter who paints outdoors and has a rich but subdued colour palette in landscapes and interiors.
She is a self-taught acrylic painter who paints out of her imagination for playful, brightly-coloured, storybook images of cats and fish, flowers and houses, sea and sky.
Flower Indulgence, acrylic painting, Shelagh Duffett
Yet the two share a passion for art so great that they both left other careers to pursue it, and they respect each other’s work and work ethic. Both of them paint everyday.
“With the title of the show,” says Duffett, “I’m the joy and he’s the possibility.”
“We’re both a bit of both,” says McGuire.
Duffett’s work is remarkable for her bold and bright colour choices. It has a graphic quality with a life force of its own and a fanciful, owl-and-the-pussycat feel.
A black cat looks up to a magical sky of haloed stars. Two houses, one red, one white, are in a landscape with a slash of orange field and abstracted, impressionist dabs of purple for lupins.
Wish Black Cat by Shelagh Duffett
“I’ve tried to do pastel painting. I can’t do it! I just love colour,” says Duffett.
“Most people say, ‘Your work makes me so happy.’ It’s very grafitifying that I’m bringing a bit of joy into the world.”
Duffett, who is a Getty photographer, worked as a film and TV editor and camerawoman. Her art career began when she sold her Huckleberry Hound lunchbox on eBay in 2000 for $175 U.S.
“I had gotten a set of paints, that I’d asked for, for my birthday and I painted a funky, folk art fish and I thought, ‘I’ll put this on eBay,’ and it sold.”
She did another painting, put it online and someone in San Francisco bought it.
“My daughter had just been born and I thought, ‘This is a way I could stay at home.’ I started painting at my dining table every single day and selling on eBay. I owe my career to the internet.’
Her paintings are all over the world – “in every single state in the U.S., in every province in Canada, in every country in Europe, in Africa, in the South Pacific. There’s a guy in Switzerland who must have 15 cats.”
She developed a large, social media following and “people to this day show up at the Seaport market looking for me,” she says. “I was on the bucket list of a retired police chief in Australia. She came on a cruise ship and to the market.”
Her children’s book CATalphabet!, with verse by herself and Jonathan Mills, has been very popular.
Over the years, “my work has evolved and become more sophisticated,” says Duffett, whose daughter is now 29.
“I like magical things and the thought there are other possibilities we are not aware of.”
McGuire was a kindergarten teacher who in 2008 quit his L.A. teaching job to go study art at the Florence Academy of Art “just like that,” he says. “I’ve never regretted making the change.”
After he graduated from the academy, he taught drawing there once a week and held classes for kids in his studio, staying in Florence for 10 years.
He has had exhibits in Russia, Los Angeles and New York and lived in Italy, New York and Nova Scotia. Today his permanent address is Blue Rocks Road.
McGuire’s style is completely opposite to Duffett’s. His soft brushwork is impressionistic and beautifully visible; his use of light is delicate though dramatically atmospheric; he paints as he looks directly at his subject but it’s filtered through his mind and imagination.
Kitchen Table, oil on linen, Tim McGuire
“The valuable thing I learned at the Florence Academy was how to observe – the importance of observation and of working from life,” he says. “It gave me the confidence to know I can observe a thing and make a painting out of it.”
He is inspired by “interesting and challenging” shapes, colours and light – the evening glow in a Vermont farmhouse amid blue winter snow, the terracotta hues in a Tuscany interior, the sharp bow of a mid-sized sailing boat in a Lunenburg boat shed with a blue floor.
Vermont Homestead at Night, oil on linen, Tim McGuire
“The whole reason I came to Nova Scotia was to paint these old fish shacks and wooden boats and lobster boats.”
Duffett steps in to tell the story. “His car was full to the brim with canvases. He got at the motel at 2 o’clock in the morning and it was locked so he crawled in under his canvases and spent his first night in Nova Scotia sleeping under his canvases.”
McGuire is inspired by Impressionist and post-Impressionists, “Van Gogh obviously,” he says, “and I like the French painter Pierre Bonnard and British painter Harold Gilman. He’s one of my favourites.”
He went to see Gilman’s work in Halifax Harbour 1918: Harold Gilman and Arthur Lismer at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Gilman’s masterpiece, Halifax Harbour, 1918, features an unusual sky of oblongs of paint that McGuire photographed. (Gilman died shortly after completing this amazing painting.)
Though he’s working from reality as a plein air painter, he thinks is art is as much a part of his imagination and memory as Duffett’s.
“I don’t think the photograph is the pinnacle of visual truth. Even though I’m painting from life and trying to represent life nothing in my work is informed by photography.
“I’m always interpreting what I look at. I’m trying to use the experience to express something I can’t express otherwise.
“This exhibition shows what we have in common,” says McGuire. “In the end it is the imagination that makes the painting even if you are working from life.”
McGuire will be at the gallery on Saturdays, 12 to 5 p.m. He gives an artist talk Wednesday, June 19, 6 p.m. He and Duffett have a closing reception on Thursday, June 27, 5 to 8 p.m.
The Chase Gallery, Nova Scotia Archives, 6016 University Ave., is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 8:30 to 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, 8:30 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, 9 to 5 p.m. The show runs to June 28.
Green Birches, by Shelagh Duffett
Firefly Meadow, by Shelagh Duffett