Bruce McClain: A Retrospective At Hillstrom Museum

Posted on January 3rd, 2013 by

Bruce McClain, Boeing Hanger, 1990, oil on canvas, 44 x 66 inches.

Bruce McClain, Boeing Hanger, 1990, oil on canvas, 44 x 66 inches.

The Hillstrom Museum of Art presents Bruce McClain: A Retrospective Exhibition, which opened in November and runs through January 31, 2014.

The exhibition surveys the career of McClain, with nearly sixty paintings, sketches, and prints, covering almost fifty years of work, much of which coincided with the artist’s career at Gustavus Adolphus College from 1965 to 2011, where he taught studio art and contemporary art history to thousands of students.  A Summary Biography for the artist is included below.  The works for the exhibit were selected with input from McClain to provide an understanding of the major components of his body of work, and it is organized around eight different themes or types chosen by the artist: Aircrafts, Aircraft Interiors, Interiors, Landscapes, Aerial Landscapes, Abstractions, Still Lifes, and Prints.

Through his work, McClain poses questions about experience, noting that painting is a method of inquiry about what is seen, what is remembered, and what is felt from one’s experiences.  He notes that ambiguity is important in his work and that it encourages a multiplicity of readings of an artwork.  He has stated, “When I begin a painting with a subject that I can observe directly or just imagine, many other influences become part of the process.  The process may be similar to driving a car through a rural landscape after seeing a powerful film with an urban setting.  The act of driving in the country is combined with the memory of the film.  The two visual experiences are not literally merged, but do exist in the mind.  Painting can make this kind of experience tangible.  Multiple images can be present at the same time.”

McClain’s style also can be multivalent.  In his earliest works, he was heavily influenced by the approach of Abstract Expressionism, and a purely non-representational form of painting was his preference.  But during some periods of his career, he also was interested in creating recognizable imagery, and in many of his paintings, he moves between the concrete and realistic and the ambiguous and non-representational.

Although the exhibition includes examples of McClain’s work as a printmaker, it is the paintings that most fully characterize his body of work.  McClain is the kind of artist that other painters highly admire—a “painter’s painter”—because of his handling of pigment and brush, his highly refined color sense, his compositional expertise, and the depth of feeling and interest in his works; but his works also have strong appeal for those who are not themselves artists.  This exhibition demonstrates the wonderful richness of the artist’s long and productive career, which continues in his retirement.

The Hillstrom Museum of Art’s Bruce McClain: A Retrospective Exhibition runs through January 31, 2014. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue available to visitors free of charge.  In addition to his Gallery Talk during the exhibit’s opening reception, there will be additional such Talks at times yet to be determined. Admission to the museum and all events is free and open to the public.  Regular museum hours are weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends, 1 to 5 p.m.  Additional information is available on the Museum’s website at


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