David McKay remembers being mesmerized by the artistry of a woman he saw painting, when he was only eight. He remembers the magic of watching the scene she was depicting develop with each stroke of the brush. It wasn’t until he was in grade eleven that he first attempted to paint, yet in spite of the lure of painting, he went on to a career in Civil Technology. However, his fascination with painting continued to gnaw at him until, by the time he was twenty-six, it won the struggle. David could no longer deny that he was an artist at heart, or the growing passion he felt for creating something with his own hands, and at that point he succumbed, leaving his job to become a full-time artist.
Today, David McKay sees himself as a mostly self-educated, representational painter. He is fascinated by the illusionary concept of creating a three dimensional image from a two dimensional format. He believes that painting gives him the opportunity to express the attraction and emotion he has for the subject matter he chooses.
David says ninety percent of his ideas for paintings come from memory, memories rooted largely in this province he loves so dearly, and in summer vacations on his Grandmother’s farm. They can be triggered by something as simple as a passing smell, a song heard, or a remembrance of childhood. He seldom looks at a thing and says “I want to paint that,” rather he relies upon the beauty and meaning which lie behind the scene, and which are evoked by it, usually over time, and most often through memory and imagination. Whether painting in egg tempera or watercolour, David is a skilled craftsman. His works reveal emotions that go beyond the purely visual, and which point to a beauty deeper than the merely physical. He is captivated by the suggestion of something hidden in a rock, or circumscribed by a wall, or conversely, with the simple lightness of a small shell on a pine branch — it isn’t so much the thing, as the essence of the thing, revealed through each brushstroke, and in the case of egg tempera, with each layer the artist lays down.
This exhibit illustrates David’s ongoing search for something beyond the physical. Nearly half the paintings contain rocks, or walls, or both. In his poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost famously wrote “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and ever since, walls have been thought of by many, in a negative context. Not so with David McKay. David is drawn to walls of rock, is enthralled by the heft of each individual rock, and with the ways in which light and shadow illuminate them, either alone, or as part of a wall. He is drawn to the sense of permanence they present, even as the walls they form shift and crumble over time, and under the influence of all weathers. David has painted rocks, walls, and the rings that often can be found in them, over many years, and continues to do so today, still looking to discover their truth, or in his own words, their “hidden memories and history…their secrets.” It is a tantalizing thought.
Even where there is no wall, as in the egg tempera “The Last Row,” there is a demarcation, a row of apple trees which, not surprisingly, is analogous to a wall. That row of bare trees also offers a look into the future, in a hint of the hidden promise of spring, and its attendant fruitfulness. I am reminded of David’s comment on his website, when he writes of egg tempera, that “the paint film dries in minutes, but it continues to cure and harden for years after the painting is finished.” In other words, a painting is a living thing, and David’s pursuit of what lies beneath is ongoing, like his passion for the act of painting itself, whichever medium he chooses.
Dina E Cox, 2019