The warm light of a cozy house reflecting on the snow outside,
apple trees showing off their first springtime blossoms,
long untouched rings drilled deep into stone, bronzed and lichened with time,
a canoe on the shore,
a grinning pumpkin in the crook of a tree’s hold,
the names of his forebears engraved in a tombstone (the letters, now weathered to a soft groove)
As autumn begins showing its magnificent show of warm colours, and New Brunswick transforms into a romantic, oft photographed landscape, we are proud to present David McKay: After 50 Years, a celebration marking his fifty years of painting. This time of year is perfectly suited to showing this exhibition. It is a season that has long inspired and influenced painters, writers, and crafters alike. As David says, this is his favourite, “when the bright colours have blown away and rich golden and dark red ochres take over”.
I have known David all my life, though I did not know him during his first 25 years of painting. From being in the gallery growing up and now working here a number of years, I have become deeply aware of the artist’s life, and how difficult it can be at times… It is one I romanticize, fear, but overall commend—because what are we without art? It always fascinates me, confounds me, really, when people don’t understand the importance of art, and dare to question the role of artists. Art is work, and an artist’s work is invaluable.
In this exhibition, David is not showing us a retrospective, but a collection of what he feels are his best paintings created in the last number of years. But of course, a title like After 50 Years elicits memories of his early days as a painter. As he recalls, there were many lean, insecure years, but he wouldn’t have traded them for anything else. He left his job as a structural technician, and never let himself see that as an option on which to fall back—he dedicated all his energy and time to becoming a full-time artist. He did just that, and continues to, after fifty years. There is something admirable in dedicating one’s life to something. Not only does he perfect his skills by working on them every day, but in his subjects, he has been able to evolve and find scenes and objects he prefers. Over time, he has painted figures, rocky shores, river vistas, stone fences, and on the rare occasion that he travels abroad, he brings his watercolours, and we are treated to a new body of work when he returns home. I remember him going to Florida with his spouse and my grandmother, and he painted the sweetest beach scenes. He has an innate ability to find and depict the heart of a place. This was seen again on an ancestral pilgrimage to Scotland; it resulted in another exquisite exhibition. His paintings were lush, tranquil, and vast, perfectly capturing the country itself.
Throughout the years, there is a continuity to the underlying theme of the beauty of rural New Brunswick. By focusing on this central theme, and a handful of subjects within that theme, he is not distracted by fads or passing art trends. His talent and abilities only get better with age.
As a young person here in New Brunswick, who does not want to leave, his work calls to me. Growing up, it felt uncool to want to stay in the province (now, in the nearly three years since the pandemic, New Brunswick is the hottest place to be), but there is something powerful in seeing David’s work and knowing his story. He was born here, felt a creative calling, and has “made it” by painting this place. There is a quiet excitement in me whenever I see his delicately rendered landscapes of both real and imagined farmlands, fields, and waterways of New Brunswick.I see David’s work as a privilege, to view and to own. That he has been able to create a life by painting, in New Brunswick, is a testament to his vision, passion, and dedication.
We are proud to call David our friend, and it is a great honour to put on this exhibition for a special milestone in his life.
Véronique Thériault, Gallery 78
This message appeared in the exhibition catalogue for David McKay's 50th Anniversary Exhibition, After 50 Years, which was on display at Gallery 78 from October 28 - November 19, 2022.