British painter incorporates New England into work at New Hampshire Institute of Art

Bedford resident Patrick McCay is a celebrated Irish-born Scottish painter who serves as dean of the Fine Art Department at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester.

He completed undergraduate and graduate studies in fine arts at the Glasgow School of Art, plus a second master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame. While studying in the U.S., McCay jokes, he first learned the “Fighting Irish” had a football team, while he developed the work he classifies today as “middle ground between the literal and the abstract.”

Over the years, McCay’s artistry has been on display at London’s Royal Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts in Scotland. Beginning Oct. 28, Granite Staters can view his work as part of the Mill Brook Gallery & Sculpture Garden’s “Visions and Reflections: Diverse Journeys” exhibit in Concord.

We reached out to McCay to find out how his trade has developed since he came across the pond, and how the Institute has changed since he joined the Manchester team in 2003.

Here’s part of the conversation.

Q: You’re originally from Ireland and Scotland. What brought you to the United States?

A: I first came to the U.S. as a graduate student on a traveling scholarship, I had a year traveling in the U.S. visiting many of the large cities, culturally absorbing and engaging many of the outstanding museums and galleries. The year was very seductive. In many ways, it had a ‘straight-out-of-the movies’ sensibility, but equally, I was meeting gifted, highly capable and creative people everywhere I traveled. I knew I would return to America. It took several years, and an opportunity to take a sabbatical from the international school in London presented itself, and I wound up at the University of Notre Dame and completing another graduate degree in my time there. It was a great experience, it has to be one of the last bastions of ‘College Americana.’ … My American friends enjoy the fact that I also did not know they had a football team. … Twenty years later, I understand this faux pas.

Q: How has your artistic style changed since you moved from the U.K. to the U.S.?

A: I studied traditionally and formerly with strict adherence to technique, material and process. … While my work has evolved to a much more expressive, complex surface engagement and lies in the middle ground between the literal – image-based – and the abstract, I never regret the formal training and education. … I have been fortunate to enjoy a level of manipulating ideas and images, getting beyond the obvious with a relatively complex visual painterly vocabulary and have people respond well to the results. The support and collection from corporations and individuals always provides a sense of satisfaction and reinforcement. Being an artist, though, is not truly about just creating a living; it is much more about creating a life and a lifestyle. It can, with the appropriate balance and organization, prove a quality of enrichment and depth to what is, after all, a very fleeting human existence.

Q: How would you classify your art today?

A: My present work is a thematic engagement of New England icons and landscape: the deer, the moose, fish, barns, the fall, food, etc. I am attempting to revisit these all-too-familiar, cliched images and objects and endeavor to visually state them in hopefully more alternative, original painterly ways and approaches. So far, so good.

Q: When did you get involved with the New Hampshire Institute of Art? What roles have you played there?

A: The institute has proven a particularly gratifying educational experience and success. When (President) Roger Williams arrived, there were just over 30 BFA degree-seeking students and two buildings. I arrived one year later, in 2003, to join the leadership as the dean and worked to craft a focused, meaningful, mission-specific fine arts curriculum; hire faculty and staff; and collectively secure the appropriate equipment and resources and begin the promotion of a quality art school right here in southern New Hampshire. We now have around 500 degree-seeking students and 12 buildings, including student dorms, and are now attracting students from around the country.

Q: What work will be on display at the Mill Brook Gallery?

A: The show at Mill Brook Gallery will see some of the most recent expressive ‘New Hampshire’ iconographic reflections. It is a group show of established artists in a space that lends itself well to this nature of mix. Pam Tarbell, gallery director, set a theme of ‘Visions and Diverse Journeys,’ so it felt particularly apt at this juncture for me.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish during your sabbatical from the institute?

A: I have been granted and taken a sabbatical this academic year, returning to the studio full time after the fragmented juggling of my teaching and administrative demands. … The culmination of the sabbatical will see a one-man show at the institute sometime in 2012 or early 2013. I certainly hope to have a very focused thematic exhibit with all of the necessary connective tissues to manifest a collective, authoritative visual statement inspired by an uncommon and intriguing painterly take on the regional natural environment.

For more information about the Mill Brook Gallery, visit www.millbrookgallery.com.

For more information about the New Hampshire Institute of Art, visit www.nhia.edu.

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).