Bruce McKay Biography Continued:

...with a wonderful artist named Ralph Abrams. He was a painter, sculptor and animator who was passionate about experimenting with ‘the new’. I would occupy long Saturday afternoons sketching madly at the museum, or sculpting at his studio. Sometimes Ralph and I would just hang out with all the other artists in the building and they would show me how they created their art. Even then, I knew that I was going to make art my career – no, it would be my life.

In my early teens I was accepted into a special high school of the arts in Toronto, where I studied life drawing, colour theory and art history. I was hungry to get as much practical experience with as many different media as I could. By the time I graduated there was nothing I hadn’t tried. But I hadn’t yet found my own individual style. I experimented with everything from photo-realistic wildlife in watercolour, to aggressively expressed abstract oils. I even briefly fell in love with technical illustration. (For an artist, I can be a very rational person, and I enjoyed the precision of it.)

Fresh out of art school, I stepped sideways into advertising. Some 250 local, national and international creative awards later, I rose to the position of Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi, Canada. But the hours were brutal and I regretted every passing day that I arrived home too tired to express myself through my art. Soon it was time to make a dramatic change. So I returned to the easel full time. Eventually, I built my ‘bigcatheads.com’ website as a virtual gallery to display my work. It’s very gratifying to get positive comments from people who live a world away. On any given day, folks from Tokyo, London and Rio drop by my site to look around. For some reason, I have found that my paintings are well appreciated in South America. I suppose it must be the bold, vibrant colours. And best of all, it was my website where Glyn Washington, of Washington Green, discovered my work.

I began painting cats years ago, shortly after adopting a magical little kitty named Maxine. Maxie is the inspiration behind the ‘Bigcatheads’ series. All at once, I found my own style, as my past influences melded into one. I rejected the detail of realism and evolved the linework into simpler, more ‘iconic’ shapes. I embraced the saturated colour found in abstract work, and the whimsical spirit of cartooning. The subject matter was – and still is – cats. You see, I adore cats. I love everything about them. They're just like me – quiet, reserved, mysterious and easily embarrassed. When I look into a cat’s eyes, I see a deep consciousness. It's not human, and it's a little bit twisted, but there are definitely wheels turning in there. What I try to capture with my art is an essence; that feeling of being completely immersed inside the moment. People who live with cats will know what I mean. The real magic is in the cat’s reaction to ‘the moment’. Cats have a profound range of expressions, but they’re so subtle, they're virtually invisible. Have you ever seen a cat smile? They can you know. They smile with their eyes.

My work is inviting to the viewer. It makes people happy and can literally brighten the room it’s in. I’ll leave the deep, brooding statements of despair to others. I do cats.

I often wish I were disciplined enough to keep proper sketchbooks, but I don't. Instead, I keep a stack of tissues in the corner of my studio. I scribble a thought down the moment it hits me, and file it away to work up later in a more controlled way. Research, for me, consists of getting right down on the floor and playing with Lily. (Lily is the new Maxie). Our internal clocks are synchronized as if by an unseen hand. Somehow, I can be painting away for hours with her curled up by my feet, and then, with no signal from me, she senses that it's time for me to break or stretch, and she hops up looking to be entertained.

When I work up a drawing, I strive for balance. I have very few rules, but I do maintain unswerving dedication to expressing ‘one thing’. One moment, one message, one gag, one prop, sometimes even one shape. Simplicity always! My other rule is ‘no sharp edges’. I like the flow of line as it blends together. Detail lives in the corners – so I don’t have any. Most of my work is fairly large. And simple objects, when they’re big on canvas, take on a visual perspective they don’t have as a small sketch or thumbnail. I make the necessary adjustments once I’ve laid the piece out on canvas and walked around it for a while. I usually have a plan for colour, but I’ll often change my mind midway through. I like to under paint in some situations to give the colour more depth.

On a painting day I’m up early so I’ve got plenty of time to fuel up with coffee, read the morning newspaper, scan the Internet and still get into the studio by nine. The mood of the day determines the atmosphere. It might be loud music or soft jazz, but it might also just be news on TV. If there’s an old Star Trek re-run on, well, I’m a happy guy. I like to go for very long stretches without interruption. The phone can ring off the hook for all I care – I’m not answering it. I break at noon and run out to do errands or grab lunch, then back to the easel for the rest of the afternoon. My evenings are spent relaxing with my beautiful wife Nora. At some point before bed, I’ll wander back into the studio to contemplate the day’s effort. This is a magical time. The light is different and it’s quiet. If you listen very closely, you might hear purring. It’s not Lily…… it’s me.

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