Bob McKay’s ‘Maine-ly Sea and Land’

Show runs through Aug. 27 at Studio 53
Posted:  Wednesday, August 23, 2017 - 12:30pm

Story Location:
53 Townsend Avenue
Boothbay Harbor  Maine  04538
United States

The sight and sound of the water rushing beneath me as I struggled to balance on the tree limb that stretched across the small waterfall in the glen mesmerized and soothed me. As I watched the water splashing over the rocks, I scanned the banks of the falls and drank in the colors there … the yellow and red flowers, the greens of the grass and leaves of the trees, the deep browns of trunks and soil. And the scents – earthy and sweet – carried on the spray of the water … An industrious woodpecker made his presence known – but only to me. I was the only person there. Carefully I moved across the tree limb then made my way down the bank to the calmer waters below. This place, I thought, is where dreams are dreamt and where peace is found.

Such was my experience while viewing Bob McKay’s painting, “The Glen,” one of the artist’s works in his new show, “Maine-ly Sea and Land,” at Studio 53. McKay is widely known for his depictions of the working waterfront — fishermen and lobstermen aboard their vessels on the sea hauling or setting lobster traps, fishing … His love of all things maritime no doubt began when he was a boy growing up on Staten Island, the son of a sea captain.

Of “The Glen,” McKay says the waterfall and the tree limb stretching across it are all the images he took from a photograph; the rest of the scene and the mood he’s created stem from his imagination.

“If I’m using a photo, I’ll sketch it out fast on the canvas and then put the photo away,” explains McKay about his process. “I still want to use my imagination and color instinct and add my emotion and impressions of what I saw.”

In painting his maritime-themed paintings, McKay is seeking to preserve those historical elements of the past or to capture current practices of life in the Boothbay region and throughout the coast of Maine. For these paintings, particularly those in which a specific boat, or type of boat, is the focus, or period dress, such as the fishermen depicted in “Pulling,” a scene of long ago, McKay will keep the photograph nearby for accuracy.

“Pulling.” It is one of my all-time favorite McKay paintings created in 2001, yet part of “Maine-ly Sea and Land.” This artist is a master at creating atmosphere on canvas … the facial details of the two fishermen — one young, one mature; the flock of gulls lured by the fish being hauled into the small skiff come from all directions … one almost expects another boat is floating nearby with Hitchcock on board. the gray, misty sky has an aura of foreboding — as does the angle of the boat in the water, the boat almost on its side … the stance of the men as they pull … When your livelihood is at sea, anything can happen, in a microsecond. And McKay captures it all.

McKay does most of his painting over the winter, saving the summer for other things – like sailing adventures with his wife, Jean. He prefers to work in studio because things, particularly the light,  change too quickly painting plein air.

“In most of my paintings there’s a distinct image I want to focus on and the rest can be out of focus leaving something to the viewer’s imagination …,” said McKay. In one of his new paintings, “The Orchard,” the canvas has three sections with the center panel, and a gorgeous tree is at the forefront with a few others behind. The trees on the side panels are out of focus as though they stretch on for miles beyond the main tree, kind of like a fog-washed peripheral vision.

Another favorite painting of this viewer is “The Pond.” This painting is alive with the bold, rich colors of the wood behind the pond. Highly impressionistic, save for the small white rowboat that’s been pulled ashore. The boater, I imagine, is off exploring nature, beyond the cat o nine tails and dandelions gone to seed along the edge of the pond. Reflections off its still water tell me it’s a sunny day, and, given the colors of the wood, autumn. I could become James Michener-like in describing this painting and the story my imagination creates within it, so, suffice it to say, this painting is a knockout.

And, no show of McKay’s would be complete without a painting of Burnt Island, a place where both he and Jean were core volunteers for over a decade. The island is also the location of McKay’s children’s book, “Percival the Lighthouse Mouse.” The artist-author chose one of the images from the book, that of Captain Rusty Court, in mixed media.

Bob McKay’s passion and imagination are channeled directly into his paintbrush. The vibrant colors and tales within the framed works of “Maine-ly Sea and Land” await your interpretation. Experience this show at Studio 53 by Sunday, Aug. 27 – the final day. Studio 53 is located at 53 Townsend Ave. in Boothbay Harbor.

For more information, call the gallery at 633-2755. View more of McKay’s works at