Where Promoting And Encouraging The Arts Is A Way Of Life
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Contemporary Luminist Master: Joseph McGurl
Joseph McGurl (American, b. 1958) Sankaty Light, 2016 oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in.
An accomplished plein air painter and contemporary luminist, Joseph McGurl is a highly sought after American landscape artist. McGurl grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, beginning his studies under his father, James, who was a notable muralist. His father taught Joseph crucial skills such as color theory, draftsmanship, and the skill of negotiating between preparatory studies and large-scale finished works. Joseph McGurl continued his studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Massachusetts College of Art, and he attended summer programs in London and Florence. While in Florence, he took private lessons from Robert Cormier, a distinguished Boston artist devoted to French Academy methods. It is clear that Cormier influenced McGurl as his pupil’s works “indicate academic figure drawing skills with sight-size landscape painting resulting in a new and unique approach to addressing the landscape.”
McGurl’s artistic process is methodical. It begins with hours of enplein air studies using oil paints. He returns to his studio with his preparatory studies and transforms the images into a larger scale—relying solely on his memory and imagination to create a work that is inherently unique. McGurl is one of the few contemporary realists who notably refuses to rely on photography to create his landscapes. He declares, “I do not use photography because I feel it diminishes the artistic and intellectual experience of the intense observation and reinterpretation that I find so satisfying. My field studies painted on location are combined with my memory and imagination to form a framework for the larger studio pieces." Thus, when looking at one of his paintings, one is looking from McGurl’s unique perspective.
In Sankaty Light (2016), McGurl says he has looked down from the cliffs at Sankaty many times, and used his collective memories of the Sankaty cliffs to form the composition. For example, in this piece the boat and certain details are derived from his familiarity with the subject. McGurl interestingly chose not to include the actual lighthouse, and instead use only the monument’s shadow. This is a deliberate visual pun, “where the presence of the lighthouse, whose purpose is to shine a light, is indicated by its shadow, which is created by the absence of light.” McGurl also emphasizes the calming bow-and-quarter waves, which add a sense of movement to the piece. Combining realism with his own memories of the Nantucket landscape, McGurl creates a work that is both modern and timeless.
McGurl is a member of the Plein Air Painters of America, and he was the youngest person ever to have won the John Singleton Copley Award from the Copley Society of Boston. He has also won theGrumbacher Gold Medallion from the Guild of Boston Artists. McGurl's paintings have been included in several museum exhibitions throughout the country including the Cape Cod Museum of Art,The Cahoon Museum of American Art, and the Saint Botolph Club of Boston.