Malleability is a relative term depending on the material a person is trying to shape. For architects, wood, metal, masonry and glass are molded as necessary to build a structure inside and out. McCain McMurray worked with these materials during his 37-year career as an architect designing a variety of residential and commercial projects. It’s no surprise that he was drawn to architecture, because he started constructing things when he was a child growing up in North Carolina. Equipped with tools and wood scraps, he built many a tree house.
For two summers McCain spent time at a nearby boys camp housed in the old modernistic buildings that once housed Black Mountain College of Art, the famous Bauhaus-inspired school attended by the likes of Josef and Anni Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Cy Twombly, and so many other contemporary artists who subsequently made strong marks on American art and culture. One could stretch things a bit and call the College a camp of sorts, because all members of the college community participated in its operation, including farm work, construction projects, kitchen duty, and a fair amount of horsing around.
But McCain didn’t know his boys’ camp had a history as an art college until after he grew up and started college himself, enrolling in Wake Forest University for his undergraduate studies and then the School of Design at North Carolina State University for a Master of Architecture degree. Prepared with a fine set of skills he set off to live and work in Alexandria, Virginia and then to Washington DC. He got his architectural foot in the door by working for the firm that renovated an old munitions factory on the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria and turned it into The Torpedo Factory Art Center--which houses galleries, studios and hundreds of artists.
By the time the 2009 economic slow-down put a damper on his architectural practice, McCain decided to try a different pursuit. He had recently seen a show of Ann Truitt’s work at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and was blown away by her use of simple rectilinear forms, hard lines, and clean colors. At the same time he was looking at work by the Swiss artist Hannah Roeckle, Russian Supremacism artists, De Stijl artists, and Dutch architect/designer Gerrit Reitveld. Aside from Ann Truitt, who often used pastel colors, the rest reduced their designs to primary colors and hard-edged forms: red, yellow, blue, black, gray, white. McCain made up his mind then to try minimalist painting too, enrolling in the Studio School in Washington DC, the Rob Vander Zee School of Painting in Alexandria, and Marcia Steiger’s abstract painting class at the Art League School in Alexandria.
McCain’s shift from the structural materials of architecture to the malleable materials of acrylic and oil paint led him to his basement in 2010 to practice techniques he was learning while trying to think like an artist. In 2013 he was selected by the Torpedo Factory Art Center to be a visiting artist, and after that a full member—coming full circle from assisting in the restoration design of the Factory to “living” in it five days a week. Today McCain explores different painting foundations and types of paint. He has created several themed series and shown in several area locations including Touchstone Gallery and the Art League Gallery.
Works in his current exhibit Metropolis represent city shapes in an abstract geometric colored segmental compositions. Colors are intuitive, modulated and applied in layers with homemade wood and Plexi squeegees and grout trowels. McCain drags the malleable paint thickly over the surface of board or canvas, wipes some off, and then adds more until the texture and finish are rich enough. After paint dries, he glazes each piece to shift the colors as necessary.
“Within the work, each element emerges with its own identity through the intention and coincidence of the painting process. This process results in freedom to take advantage of serendipity and the surprises it can bring,” McCain states. “The result is an ordered or structured composition of color and texture, orthogonal forms stripped to their essence." His love for structure and form, he says, comes from working as an architect for so many years. -- Rosemary Luckett
See the Metropolis Paintings by McCain September 9-27, 2015 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Avenue NW, Washington DC. www.touchstonegallery.com . Opening Reception: Friday, September 11, 6-8:30pm Preview: September 9-11, 11am - 6pm Touchstone. McMurray www.mccainmcmurray.com