• Meet our Artists – Joseph McGurl

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    Tree's Place
    The gallery at Tree's Place was founded on Cape Cod in 1986, with a commitment to promoting the best established and emerging artists in the region. It has since grown to become one of the leading dealers of representational painting in the nation, proud home to some of the finest living painters working in this genre.
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    Joseph McGurl has unquestionably become one of the most sought after, and influential, landscape artists currently painting in America.

    Born 1958, in Needham, MA., he credits his father, muralist James McGurl, as his earliest influence and teacher. McGurl completed his academic training at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and then at Massachusetts College of Art. He continued his studies abroad in England and Italy, and at home under the tutelage of Boston School painter Robert Cormier. This combination of classical training and independent travel helped McGurl to develop his personal style organically – it is a continuation of a tradition that can be traced back to the French academies, but executed in his own vernacular.

    McGurl has long identified with the notion of artist as record-keeper. Just as the painters of the Hudson River School acted as journalists, documenting man’s incursions and discoveries in distant lands, McGurl set out to transcribe his own experience of the New England landscape in a manner reflective of who he is, and what he values most.

    In developing his mature style, McGurl acknowledges his indebtedness to the Boston School painters, whose teachings emphasized the importance of drawing from life while infusing academic traditions with the pure light of the Impressionists. By painting sketches outdoors, McGurl gained a command of the full visible spectrum of natural light, using warm hues for highlights and cool ones for shadows.

    Intellectual curiosity has made McGurl an active learner throughout his adult life. His reading list includes books on physics, wave dynamics, and climatology in addition to art historical compendiums. When observing the landscape, he is guided by an understanding of the scientific principles that govern its behaviors and grant it the properties he hopes to depict on the canvas.

    McGurl is also guided by a direct, experiential connection to nature.  What he chooses to paint is not at all arbitrary; it is a result of years of firsthand observations. “I paint the ocean because I love to swim, sail, and surf,” he explains, and “I paint the mountains because I have been hiking and skiing there my whole life.” An avid mariner, he completes many of his sketches on location aboard his own John Alden-designed ketch, aptly named the Atelier.

    Joining this authentic selection of subject matter is an almost-puritanical refusal to cut corners in creating the finished artwork. He condemns the use of cameras in preparation for a painting. This is partly because of its monocular distortions, and partly because it feels more valid to him to stand before a canvas and create an honest, personal account of nature.  He admits that drawings from sight may be imperfect, but that the imperfections are scars he wears with pride, evidence that his record is a genuine one.

    The athlete in McGurl enjoys the challenge of setting out to capture particularly difficult visual phenomena in nature. When he succeeds in re-creating his experience on the canvas, the gratification is real. He likens it to climbing a mountain as opposed to driving the top. “If you know the mountain,” he affirms, “you can feel it in the soreness of your muscles.”
    McGurl’s paintings portray his fascination with the dynamic natural world. He is conscious of the latent energy within elements in nature, and aware of the forces shaping their relationship to one another. He has developed a deliberate method of paint application, with areas of sgraffito, impasto, and glazing, helping to convey this sense of relative movement.

    Variations in surface and the arrangement of closely related color values produce a flickering, changing light that mimics the way human eyes perceive visual information. McGurl’s version of nature is one with striking aesthetic and emotional power. He draws viewers directly into the scene he observes and invites them to share in what he was feeling when he made the painting.

    Joseph McGurl’s paintings have been included in museum and commercial exhibitions from Boston and New York to San Francisco. He has had retrospective solo shows at the Cape Museum of Fine Arts, The Cahoon Museum of American Art, and the Saint Botolph Club of Boston. He is a Fellow with the American Society of Marine Artists and has won the John Singleton Copley Award from the Copley Society of Boston; and the Grumbacher Gold Medallion from the Guild of Boston Artists.

    He has been featured in American Artist, American Art Collector, Fine Art Connoisseur, Art Ideas, M. Stephen Doherty’s book, Creative Oil Painting; in Driscoll and Skolnick, The Artist and the American Landscape; and in Harris and Lyon, Art of the State: Massachusetts. In 2013, he received three distinguished awards in his field! He received the 2013 Plein Air Magazine Award, and First Place in Landscape and a major purchase award (both for his painting Creation in Time and Space) from the Art Renewal Center’s 2013 Salon Competition.

    April 25, 2014