Abstract Realism: William McNamara Paintings to be Featured at Arsaga’s Throughout July

Abstract Realism: William McNamara Paintings to be Featured at Arsaga’s Throughout July
Artwork by William McNamara “Buffalo River Near Terrapin Ranch”

Artwork by William McNamara
“Buffalo River Near Terrapin Ranch”

William McNamara specializes in a type of watercolor painting that almost look like photo-realistic.

Since 1976 Bill has lived on a mountaintop bordering the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area in Northwest Arkansas. His affinity for the wild places surrounding his home is reflected in his “intimate” landscapes.

Much of his artwork highlight scenes miles within McNamara’s home that have caught his eye. He equates what he does with nature scenes to canvas with what it’s like trying to make sense of what you may see in the clouds. That process is where McNamara’s “abstract realism” comes to fruition.

McNamara is this month’s featured artist at Arsaga’s at the Depot. McNamara’s opening will be held on July 7 from 7-9 p.m. at 548 West Dickson Fayetteville, AR 72701. Skylar Petet will provide music.

The Butler Institute of American Art and the National Watercolor Society have exhibited him, and he has had solo exhibits at the Arkansas Arts Center and the Springfield Art Museum, both of which include McNamara paintings in their permanent collections.

Artwork by William McNamara “Fall Leaves on Shallow Water”

Artwork by William McNamara
“Fall Leaves on Shallow Water”

We got the chance to talk with McNamara about his art:

TFW: Could you tell me about what abstract realism is in relation to your work?

McNAMARA: That’s certainly in a lot them and that’s the direction I’m headed. Some of them still go toward what you would call a normal landscape. What I mean is that the main interest in the painting is more color, pattern and shape than trying to create a sense space or depth, what you would see in a normal landscape. If that makes any sense.

TFW: A lot of these look almost like photographs. Do you imagine these landscapes? Or do you go and sit in the field to paint these?

McNAMARA: I live right up against the Buffalo River Wilderness area. It’s actually only 50 yards from my backdoor. Most of them come from close to my house. Sometimes I do drawings and studies and take photographs. Sometimes I work on site, but especially the big ones I’ll work in my studio. Even the ones that I work out that get to 2/3 of the way through, it’s really just me reacting to what I have so far. I end up with a dull, at least to my eye, painting. I kind of think of it like looking at clouds and trying to make the painting come out more. There’s an abstract pattern to my brush strokes. Up close, they don’t look like photographs.

A lot of it is, there might be 12 or 15 layers. I use watercolor, but I use it almost like oil paintings. It helps me look it more real to your eye. I think that’s what people are referring to whenever they say it looks like a photograph, it’s that reality. Say you’re doing a limb or something, and every time you go back and refine it the colors build up. If you build up layers of different colors you can build more complicated and interesting colors, at least the way I see them. I try to make something that attracts peoples eyes so it compels them to look at it, if that makes sense.

Artwork by William McNamara Upper Pool

Artwork by William McNamara
Upper Pool

Essentially, I start by finding something that catches my eye. I may make a composition sketch to know what I want from what I’m looking at, and do a pastel study for colors, and take several photographs usually. It’s really just a thing to look at for a while as I’m starting out. I blow one or two of the photos up so I can look at them. Then I do penciling and do a light sepia. Sepia is such a strong pigment. I slowly begin to add in to the darker areas and bring it all forward at once with the colors. After a couple months I’ll have a painting. It doesn’t have anything to do with the scene anymore by time its finished. It’s me playing with the painting, and I think that might be where the photographic or mosaic or stained glass look comes from. I try to bring the whole thing. It’s lots of sitting down and looking at it. I used to think I was lazy, but that’s just a part of it. After you paint it and sit there and look at it you find places and things come out to you. It’s very normal.

TFW: I noticed a lot of your work involves rock formations and water. Is that intentional?

McNAMARA: It has been recently. I’ve been trying to put together a show for my large works called “Rocks and Water: Abstract Realism.” But I also do other paintings, a number of figure paintings. Flowers, people and other settings.

TFW: What got you into art?

Artwork by William McNamara “Hole In Rock”

Artwork by William McNamara
“Hole In Rock”

McNAMARA: My mother was an amateur artist. I did art as a child, it was before video games and such. It was entertainment to me to draw stories and stuff to play with. I started college on a math scholarship, because I thought I’d be an architect, and the college I went to didn’t have an architecture program. I took art along with the math, and I dropped the math and stayed with art and picked up literature. I got an art degree, and taught part-time for a few years at the college before going to graduate school before I moved up here. I painted during all that time. You learn more teaching than I learned any other way. At the beginning, making a living at it so I had to produce some kept me painting and slowly you get better, and changes and becomes more complicated. Nobody I know quite paints like my style.

I tell you the truth, if I looked at my work when — say I was 20 — I’d think I couldn’t do it. I’m amazed what you can teach the hand and eye to do if you keep at it, even way beyond what you think about. Like playing a music instrument. When you’re young you don’t know. I was an abstract artist to begin with. College was in the late 60s and early 70s and everything was abstract. With that style, you just kind of react. One day in 1970 I spent 8 hours by a river drawing what I saw, and that’s where it started.

I sold my first painting at 19. I’ve been doing it so long it’s an addiction. To live in the mountains, I needed to actually make a living at it. I had been teaching college, and I could have gone back, but to stay out here I needed to make a living. I managed to do it, but nobody makes it rich doing it, I guarantee it.

Categories: Galleries