“The ocean is both beautiful and terrifying to me,” says Colin McGuire. An emerging local artist, he finds “limitless inspiration” in the seascapes of the Outer Cape and their “variety of moods and effects of surface and light.”
McGuire has recently been focusing on small works on cradled wood panels (panels backed and raised by a frame). Using bold colors and broad, expressive palette-knife strokes, he seeks to capture the energy of the waters surrounding Provincetown.
“I’m trying to say more with less, allowing texture to speak,” McGuire says. “There are so many facets to explore: the waves, currents, winds, clouds, atmosphere — all of which are fleeting. There is something about the pure vastness and depth of the ocean in relation to our human existence that presents an existential crisis, which I welcome and seek in my work. I find that in their small scale, my paintings are best capable of capturing a glimpse of this.”
He’s the son of painter Michael McGuire, who owns an eponymous gallery in Provincetown, where Colin shows his work. Though he was born in Boston, his family relocated to the highlands of North Truro when he was in elementary school, to be closer to Provincetown’s art scene. “I feel lucky that I saw the beach and the ocean with fresh eyes when I moved out here as a young kid,” McGuire says. “I was enchanted — I fell in love.”
Although he liked to draw, McGuire spent his youth surfing and didn’t begin painting until his late teens, when he picked up a brush during a trip to Mexico with his father.
“My first paintings were of waves, because I had drawn them obsessively my whole life,” he says. “Painting nonstop for a month, I felt the same kind of joy I did surfing.”
Surfing still informs his work as a painter. “I consider my experiences as a surfer similar to the studies of J.M.W. Turner, who, I believe, tied himself to a ship’s mast in a storm to better understand the force of the sea,” McGuire says. “I remember one day surfing in the winter in Truro, looking back to shore once I had made it through the massive breakers. I realized how far I had drifted, and it was clear to me that I was not in control of the situation — the ocean was.”
After taking his first degree at Montserrat College of Art, where he now teaches, McGuire went for an M.F.A. at Lesley University’s College of Art and Design. During his studies there from 2016 to 2018, he further explored the Provincetown environment.
“I always felt a particular connection to the town as an old colony fishing village,” he says. “Much of the history of our country began there.”
McGuire’s series of “Settlers” paintings, done while in graduate school, contemplates the experience of the Pilgrims upon their arrival here. “I imagined what it must have been like to sail into the wild unknown: the fear, the doubt, the danger, the excitement,” he says. “Many of the scenes I painted show groups gathered in a circle around a central glow — a place to shelter in camaraderie, to come together to share ideas.”
The lives that were uprooted and destroyed by the settlers’ arrival are equally important to McGuire. “I tried to imagine this happening today — an alien civilization appearing on the horizon with plans to destroy our way of life,” he says. “These paintings show groups gathered together, migrating to safety, or distantly observing another group.”
The “Settlers” paintings are a marked shift from his usual vibrant palette. “I was questioning making a living from painting a place that was once natural and untouched, wondering what my role was and whether I could feel good about it,” McGuire says. “I would start by painting a bright scene, which I then covered over entirely in black. Then I would use a reductive process to find the painting within.”
McGuire’s recent work, an ongoing “Serenity” series, reflects the deeper connection he now feels to the Outer Cape he has loved since his childhood. It embraces the tranquility of the ocean, and, with it, a lightness he needs at this time and hopes to pass on to his viewer.
Many of his new works are painted in a single session, hoping to capture the energy of the moment. “I am bold in my application,” he says. “I take risks in the studio that present challenges I try to resolve that day. My paintings have become much more minimalist, just this transition of color across the canvas. What I am trying to convey is a state of being.”
McGuire enjoys teaching and is offering two-hour online evening classes this winter on his website. He also hosts single-session virtual workshops via Wellfleet Preservation Hall, including one on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
“I speak to approaching a painting that is not coming out as you intended and reacting to that,” McGuire says. “You have to learn not to worry, but instead trust that that will be a good thing.”
The event: “Paint Night: A Virtual Workshop With Colin McGuire,” presented by Wellfleet Preservation Hall
The time: Tuesday, Dec. 8, 6 to 8 p.m. (single session)
The place: wellfleetpreservationhall.org
The cost: $25 per person, not including materials