This is part two of my interview with Kevin and Wanda Macpherson. For examples of their current work, go to kevinmacpherson.com or wandamacpherson.com.
Randy Rasmussen (RR): I have painted with dozens of plein air artists over the years. I, unlike some artists, paint with a sense of urgency, always trying to capture the light. Does it take you both a long time to look at the scene, set up and start the painting?
Kevin Macpherson (KM): I do need to be inspired. It may take me a long time to find the spot of inspiration but once that connection is made I take set-up with the sense of urgency and attack the canvas with nervous energy. Only after I cover the canvas with the fleeting spots of color can I calm down to rearrange these colorful morsels into a more cohesive unit. My goal is to maintain the expression, adding enough descriptive information to communicate my idea with the degree of finish that is complete in my mind.
Wanda Macpherson (WM): I am like the tortoise and Kevin is the rabbit. But sometimes he does take his time to find the right spot. I usually find my spot faster than him as I am always thinking I won’t be able to finish in a certain amount of time. I take my time trying to get the drawing correct and then I will use color.
RR: Wanda, when you started painted, were you making any of the common mistakes that Kevin tactfully told you about when you started painting? Kevin, do you see students making one common mistake in their paintings?
WM: For me it seems I am always making errors in perspective and many times my buildings are slightly crooked. Actually it is probably a good idea we paint old buildings.
KM: The most common mistake I see is not understanding the laws of light. Once light and shadow are understood, most all the other issues will fade away.
RR: Kevin, how would you describe your current work and what changes, if any, have taken place in your painting during the last 15 years?
KM: My seven years of travel in China have shifted some of my interest in painting the human face. We have traveled the world seeking inspiring landscapes, pristine or manmade. After traveling to China, obviously because there are over a billion people, I became inspired to paint portraits. It is a great way to meet new people, practice the language, and challenge myself. I have found models on trains, the hotel managers, housekeepers, massage therapists, my acupuncturist, the barbershop, my teachers, and young students at the school where I volunteer as Art Ambassador. China is an exciting place offering many unexpected adventures. The culture is so interesting and Asian Art and calligraphy is finding its way into my work. I also have brought more abstract passages into my paintings using the sensuous beauty of calligraphic line and mass. I believe a strong representational painting must have a strong abstract structure. I do hope my art evolves and changes continually. It would a shame to have my work remain static.
RR: Kevin, in reading one of your bios I was interested to learn you started working in watercolor. Why did you transition to oil and do you still occasionally work in watercolor?
KM: At Northern Arizona University, we experimented in many mediums including oil, mainly in portrait classes. Advertising illustration called for a variety of subjects, concepts and mediums but with the demand of short deadlines it was unusual to paint in oils. It just wasn’t practical because of the drying time and to be honest, painting in oil was intimidating. I began working in watercolor, acrylics, pastels and ink but not until I started to paint on location (en plein air) did I jump head first into oil. For the last 30-plus years I have worked exclusively in oil. Moving between mediums is refreshing. My first adventure was on our six-month honeymoon. I sketched landscapes in line and wash. I received a commission to paint the Lair McDonald in his kilt. This was my first real venture in oils. I am inspired to work in watercolor again especially seeing some of the great watercolorists. When I travel to the remote areas it is not easy to carry all the oil painting gear and wet canvases so I have lately experimented with the slow drying acrylics and may work in watercolor or pastel in some of these future journeys.
RR: I am interested in the program you participate in, Art Ambassador for a Colorful World program. Can you describe the program?
KM: Art Ambassador For A Colorful World evolved from my experiences offering free paints days for children here in the United States but mostly from my involvement in a wonderful nonprofit, Xela Aid. This organization has worked in a small Guatemalan village for 23 years, encouraging sustainability, education and leadership in their community. I offered my art service to work in the schools there and came home with more than I imagined. Wanda and I sponsored four children after the first visit to Guatemala. This sponsorship keeps them in school, which is rare down there. The second door that opened to lead me down this path was Mr. Zhang from Shanghai. I saw a program on CCTV, China televison via satellite. He offered a music program to underprivileged children of migrant workers living in Shanghi. I was so impressed with his story, I e-mailed him to offer art to his program. Soon I was off to Shanghai working with the sweetest kids making up art projects. His successful program the next years was brought to a primitive village in Yunnan Province and I was asked to join. I was the only foreigner to ever visit the school of 250, 7-11 year old children. It was fun to work with the children. Their smiles and my joy led me to create my own foundation, Art Ambassador For A Colorful World. I am proud to say we now have nonprofit status and a Board of wonderful folks to help guide me to this new world of nonprofit.
RR: What have you learned from this program?
KM: Some will argue, why Guatemala and China and not in the United States? There are many underprivileged right here. Well art truly has no borders. A smile is currency anywhere in the world. I choose to do my work there now but do offer similar opportunities here in the United States and Mexico. Art is a universal language. It is a good international relationship, a good face of the spirit of an American. Art Ambassador for a Colorful World’s mission is to make quality art instruction available to children and adults in areas of the world where access to art classes and museums is limited. We have provided art classes to children in China and Guatemala since 2011 and have plans to expand into other areas in the future. We have awarded our first scholarship, of what we hope will be many, to a young man in Guatemala, enabling him to study with his mentor, Mariano Gonzales, a successful local artist. We have big plans to bring the benefits of art education to even more people in the future.
WM: This program is just in its infancy. There is a lot of work to be done and trying to get the word out takes time and effort. We feel it is a good idea and Kevin enjoys being with the kids and teaching them art.
For more information on Xela Aid, visit xelaaid.org. For more information on Art Ambassador For A Colorful World, visit artambassador.org.