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  • Victoria Hood, Founder

IN THE STUDIO WITH COLLEEN MCGUIRE

Updated: Apr 17

From distractions to guilt, the artist lays bare her academic pursuits to be an en plein air painter

Raindrops, oil on panel, 11 x 16", 2022


If you are a regular of the historic Litchfield County town, Sharon, CT, then you have seen Colleen McGuire painting while you drive through Main Street. As the artist and writer Jeff Joyce so eloquently wrote for The Lakeville Journal,


“You may have seen McGuire around town on occasion, tall and athletic, going at her portable French easel with the brushes. I find her enormously brave. Whenever I paint en plein air, it’s furtive and secret, using water-based media on mostly small boards or salvaged book covers in or near my car so as not to be spotted. I don’t want anyone to see my failures.”


I personally first fell in love with Colleen’s work when I saw her painting of the local Shell gas station. The piece perfectly balanced the beautiful natural light of dusk with the gas station’s mechanical bright yellow and white lights. It also somehow glorified something so mundane, so classic America, into something so beautiful and interesting. Following our interview together underneath a tree in the town’s cemetery, where she was painting a new landscape, I have learned from Colleen that everyday sights and sounds are made magical through remembering them.

Parking Lot, oil on panel, 12 x 18", 2023


Let’s begin with your upbringing. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, a very industrial city, and my father worked in the auto industry for Chrysler. I therefore was always interested in cars, and I sometimes wonder if that is why they come out in my paintings. Cars are just such a great metaphor for moving through life. As a painter I spend a lot of my time in my car looking for spots and I enjoy the anonymity and protection it gives me, especially in bad weather and at night.

Heading South on N. Main, oil on panel, 16 x 24", 2022


What was your first introduction to art, and how did you start evolving as an artist?

Since I was a child, I have always appreciated art and I would receive positive attention for my drawings and paintings. While we did not go to many museums or galleries, we did have a giant copy of the Mona Lisa that my mother found in a furniture shop. It was massive and my friends who did not know any better assumed we were wealthy. It certainly was a mystery to me as we were neither exposed to much culture nor were we rich.


A big artistic moment for me was when I was nine years old and our local gallery in Windsor had an exhibition of The Group of Seven. They were a group of Canadian landscape painters from the 1920s to 1930s who painted en plein air. The show featured a snowy painting by Tom Thomson that was absolutely beautiful and has stuck with me ever since. He would spend his time in a canoe on Lake Onterio painting and it is said he died drowning. While his empty canoe was found his body was never found.

The Olson House, oil on panel, 12 x 18, 2020


How did you evolve as an artist throughout high-school and college?

I continued to study art through high school. I wasn’t a very good student as I was impulsive and easily excitable. If it had to do with art, however, I could completely focus. What made me a bad academic student made me a strong art student. Being alert and attentive helped me to be creatively struck in the moment and become completely involved in the piece I was making.


For college, I almost went to fashion school. Both my grandparents were tailors, and I must have inherited an interest in clothing from them. When I got into fashion school, I decided not to go and instead I opened a shop in Toronto that I absolutely loved.


After a couple of years though, I knew I had to go back to school, and I knew the importance of a college education. I therefore moved to Westchester, NY, attended Purchase College, and I supported myself by working as a live-in nanny. My love for art was reunited at Purchase, which had an incredible art program that gave me a fantastic education.

Floodlights, oil on panel, 13 x 34", 2021


Then you became a good Irish Catholic mother and wife?

Yes, I met my husband about thirty-five years ago on St. Patrick’s Day in a bar in Florida. I was still at Purchase and he was at medical school. Once married, we had four daughters one right after the other. I loved being a mother to four boisterous and intelligent girls. There was never a dull moment.


After New York we moved to Sharon, CT where we raised our family. I continued to paint, and as the girls got older I had more and more time to paint. I really wanted to go back to school, I really wanted to be a better artist. At the time I was painting from photographs and was frustrated and unhappy with my work.


When my eldest went to college, I went to get my MFA at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. I personally did it because, as I said, I wanted to be a better artist. Yet, I told everyone around me I was getting a master’s because I was interested in teaching. I suppose that Catholic guilt made me feel subconscious that I was spending money to go back to school and not financially contributing to a family of four children. It felt selfish.

Late Spring on North Main, oil on panel, 16.5 x 15", 2023


And by a twist of faith, you became an art teacher, correct?

Yes, after I graduated, I began teaching at Western Connect State and I loved it. That was ten years ago, and I now teach at both the university and at Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT.


Teaching has helped me as an artist enormously. During my master’s I began working again from observation and I fell in love with painting and enjoyed my work more. I also love to teach painting and to be a good teacher I am constantly reading and studying about artists, different techniques, etc. I also learn so much as an artist from my students. My students come from a different generation, they have different interests, and they have ambition and excitement. They inspire me as an artist and push me as a teacher.


During the pandemic, Hotchkiss generously provided me with funding for professional development, and I was able to take online courses and workshops we great institutions like London’s Royal Drawing School. I have therefore continued to study; I am a continuous student.

Metro North Station I, oil on panel, 14 x 17.5", 2023


Could you tell us more about your new show, NIGHT and DAY, at Standard Space gallery in Sharon, CT?

Well, this is my first solo show since grad school. It has been quite a long time and I was very nervous during the leadup to the opening. They are probably the most authentic paintings of my career. They are en plein air paintings of my experience of living in Sharon and visiting the state of Maine. They are places I see all the time but in different lighting situations. I especially love nighttime, the quiet time, when the light and atmosphere become more mysterious. The light stays constant too for longer periods of time.


These places resonate with me because of their geometry, not because of a vivid memory or a strong emotion. For example, I love the parking lot at the hospital because of the composition of its painted lines and streetlights as well as its contrasting shapes and spaces. The paintings are a response, therefore, to the visual world.

Shell (Extra Mart), oil on panel, 13.5 x 24", 2023


What is your favorite piece in the show and why?

I love all of them for different reasons. For example, I really love the gas station, which took me four years to complete. As I work on wood, I was constantly scraping and re-sanding it, and I even wanted to throw it out into the garbage more than once. I kept going back to it, however, and in the end the time I spent on it really shows in the final work.

Indian Mountain, oil on panel, 11 x 42", 2022


What are you working on next?

The Sharon parking lot is a new step forward for me. It was another painting that took me a very long time to complete. Once I nailed the sky and the clouds, I felt confident enough to add a panel to the right and then I add another to the left. This step forward into the panoramic view is exciting and frees me from the confines of a rectangle shape.


At the end of the day, I see my paintings as a visual diary, a documentation of a time and place. In that way, I relate to the artist Dawn Clements (1958–2018). Her work reminds me of a scroll that has no limit to it.


Colleen McGuire: NIGHT and Day

Standard Space, 147 Main Street, Sharon, CT 06096

Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 12-5PM

For sale inquiries,info@standardspace.net



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