Artist and architect Bruce MacNelly has a somewhat different way of looking at process. He works in both collage and painting, with the former often informing the latter. For his collage work, MacNelly takes an intuitive approach. “It’s sort of stream of consciousness,” he says. “I use collages as an opportunity to study compositional ideas and color ideas.”
Oftentimes a collage will inspire a painting. “There might be a narrative that a collage suggests,” MacNelly explains. “Sometimes when I put a couple of different images together in the same frame, I find that there’s some sort of story. I try to stay open to ideas. With collage, I try not to be too specific or didactic.”
Currently about a dozen works by MacNelly are hanging at the Pathways space at the Chilmark Tavern, where the artist recently gave a talk about his work, and will be hosting a collage workshop in December.
Among the paintings, drawings, studies for larger works, and collage pieces that make up the exhibit are a series of drawings on paper inspired by Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel. Curator Tanya Augustinos encouraged MacNelly to provide some work around a theme. The artist mentions variously Michelangelo and the iconic Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington as inspirations for some of his work.
Before undertaking a career as an architect, MacNelly earned a double major B.A. in art history and studio art from Williams College in Williamstown. He notes that his early interests in art history, as well as his architectural background, have influenced his work.
“After graduate school [MacNelly earned his master of architecture degree from the University of Virginia in 1975], l went to work with architect and painter Michael Graves. He would give lectures on architecture, but draw on the history of art,” says the artist. “That tied back to my background as an art history major.”
Of the ways that the disciplines of fine art and architecture are related in his work, MacNelly says, “One of the problems in painting is that you’re generally trying to represent spatial ideas in a surface that’s flat. It’s the same in architecture. When you’re drafting a building, you’re usually doing a two-dimensional representation. It’s that same kind of problem that engages me intellectually.”
With collaging, MacNelly is able to express himself quite freely, while his paintings require more discipline, in a manner similar to his architectural work. “In painting, I tend to be more deliberate — laying things out and being more precise with how it aligns,” he says. “I try to think it out in advance somehow. That comes from being an architect. “
Collage work allows the artist to use a more freeform approach to expression. “I tend to be more literal as a painter — more representational,” he says. “Collaging allows me to think about ideas of things overlapping and sliding behind other things. Those ideas find their way into my paintings. The parts of my paintings that are more abstract come from the collaging.”
That sense of freedom extends to MacNelly’s approach to creating art, as opposed to working in the architectural realm. “One of the nice things about painting is that I’m not doing it as a profession,” he says. “I can just follow my nose and do what makes sense in the moment. The studio is a refuge for me. I don’t have any obligations — no deadlines.”
“Bruce MacNelly Solo Exhibition” will hang at Pathways Arts through Dec. 31. Open hours include event days from noon to 9 pm, and by appointment. A collage workshop with the artist will take place at Pathways on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 1:30 to 3:30 pm. Attendees are invited to register in advance, and to bring along an assortment of images or printed matter of interest from which to be inspired. Attendance is limited to 15. Sign up at bit.ly/colwkp.
For more information, email Bruce MacNelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Davis will host a Leaf Collage Workshop on Saturday, Nov. 25. Using pressed leaves and an LED light board, participants will create artwork to turn into a print or a holiday card. 2 to 3:30 pm. Suggested donation $20.