Hillstrom Museum of Art Presents Bruce McClain: A Retrospective Exhibition Posted on January 19th, 2014 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 at Gustavus Adolphus College will present Bruce McClain: A Retrospective Exhibition, through Jan. 31, 2014. On Sunday, January 26 at 3:30 p.m., artist Bruce McClain will repeat his opening reception gallery talk, discussing his art and his career.  The talk will be held in the Museum, amid his works on view in the exhibition. As with all Hillstrom events, the talk is free and open to the public.

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 from 1965 to 2011, where he taught studio art and contemporary art history to thousands of students. 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 artwork, 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.

Bruce McClain: A Retrospective 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.

All events are 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.  Please visit the Museum’s website at gustavus.edu/finearts/hillstrom for further information.

More information about the artist:

McClain was born and raised in Wisconsin and earned a Bachelor of Science degree, in Art and English, from the University of Wisconsin, Platteville, in 1963. In 1964, he earned a Master of Science degree in Art from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, followed by a Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Printmaking, also from Madison, in 1965.

Although he taught drawing in graduate school in Madison, virtually his entire teaching career was spent at Gustavus Adolphus College, with the exception of serving in March of 1988 as a Visiting Artist and Consultant at Northwest Missouri State University (in Kirksville; now Truman State University). He was the recipient of numerous research grants from Gustavus, and was awarded leave funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the spring of 1978.

McClain has participated in many regional and national competitive and invitation exhibits, including at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Denver Art Museum, the Nexus Contemporary Art Center in Atlanta, the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and, in 2011-2012, the Preston Contemporary Art Center in Mesilla, New Mexico.

His works are found in numerous collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, which acquired his 1962 oil painting Landscape Entombed that same year, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., which acquired his 1978 oil painting of a cockpit titled Gustav in 1984 and which has it on display in their World War II Aviation gallery next to their German Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 fighter plane, a model nicknamed “Gustav.”

McClain was named to the Arts and Letters Alumni Hall of Fame of the University of Wisconsin, Platteville in 2005, and in 2013 was presented the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame Artist Award. He was represented by the Suzanne Kohn Gallery of St. Paul through the 1970s and 1980s.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Matt Thomas


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