Artist Bill McCauley presents a collection of pastel landscapes inspired by the fragility of nature. View more of his work on his website.
Like most kids, my hand was never far from a crayon. It gradually morphed into a paintbrush, and I knew from age five that I would be an artist. But after high school, life got in the way, and a 45-year hiatus from art followed.
Upon retiring from a 40-year teaching career, I returned to my first love by picking up my first pastel stick. I’ve attended workshops and painted with plein air groups, but I’m mostly self-taught. Being able to choose the who, what, where, why, when, and how of my training has led me down a fulfilling path.
My work has been shown at the Highlandtown Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland, The Artists’ Gallery in Ellicott City, Maryland, the Howard County Arts Council in Ellicott City, Maryland, and in several venues with the Maryland Pastel Society. In 2021, one of my paintings won the prestigious Covington Award from the Horse Spirit Gallery, in conjunction with the Howard County Arts Council. My memberships include the Maryland Pastel Society and the American Impressionist Society.
My subject matter is inspired by Nature, with a capital N. We need to preserve Nature in any way we can. My painting process is heavily influenced by the impressionists of the Cape Cod School of Art. These include Camille Przewodek, Lois Griffel, and Susan Sarback, all of whom achieve a very special sorcery with color and light in their paintings.
After wrestling with trying to identify myself as an impressionist or a realist, I accepted that I was neither. This led to an artistic identity crisis. I was barely able to paint for lack of a label. Now I’ve accepted that I don’t need to pigeonhole myself. I’m getting out of my own way and letting my style develop. Today I identify as a representational painter, somewhere between impressionism and realism, with occasional snippets of abstraction.
Even the abstraction is representational, though, as I’ve come to appreciate that nature consists of abstract shapes. I now try to view a potential painting subject as I would a baby: a collection of abstract shapes and colors.
I begin my pastel landscapes with an underpainting of hard pastels on a sanded surface. Then I dissolve the pastels with rubbing alcohol to provide a base for the softer pastels that go on in successive layers.
My goal is not to paint pretty scenes, but rather to preserve, in visual art, the power and fragility of nature and to show the insignificance of humankind next to nature’s might. I want my works to embody a line from Sara Teasedale’s numbing poem, There Will Come Soft Rains, which describes how the world would fare if humans disappeared: “And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn, Would scarcely know that we were gone.”
I don’t want to hit my viewers over the head with my message, so I rely on subtle suggestions incorporated into my paintings. After all, my goal in art, as in life, is to weave threads… not forge chains.
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