James McElhinney: Discover the Hudson Anew

September 13, 2019–February 16, 2020

McElhinney encourages all of us to engage in the age-old art of mindful seeing, offering insights that often prove elusive in the momentary snap of our phone cameras.

Big ideas often come in small packages. James McElhinney has journeyed around the world with a pocket-size sketchbook and watercolor tin, communing with nature, and stopping to observe and record the glorious views around him. Fourteen years ago, during a period of convalescence, he used a sketchbook and watercolor to paint views from his hospital windows. That pragmatic decision was pivotal for the artist. He fell in love with the mobility and intimacy of this small-format media, which can be packed into the lining of a hiking vest, following in the footsteps of historical expeditionary artists. Since then, he has engaged in pictorial conversation with the Hudson River, always with materials on hand.

James McElhinney: Discover the Hudson Anew presents the painter’s sketch books and prints related to the River in a comprehensive showing for the first time. A video program, animating turning pages, will allow visitors to see additional sketchbook paintings. McElhinney says he wants his art to demonstrate “that constructive dialogue between humanity and nature is alive and well, while underscoring how art provides durable and dynamic modes of engagement.”

These themes are underscored by McElhinney’s collaboration with Curator Laura Vookles to select relevant nineteenth-century pieces from the Museum collection to display side by side with his art. William Guy Wall (Irish, 1792–1864), Jacques-Gérard Milbert (French, 1766–1840), and Samuel Colman (American, 1832–1920) also depicted the river as part of travels or over a period of time. Colman painted the panoramic splendor of the River, as well as the sailing vessels and steamboats that carried cargo, tourists and artists.

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The prints from The Hudson River Portfolio, based on watercolors by Wall, feature sites that McElhinney has also depicted in his sketchbooks. Painting the Hudson in 1820, Wall likely embarked on this project because of a perceived public demand for American scenery. Milbert, on the other hand, used art for scientific reasons, to record his naturalist observations. He published his views in books to promote public knowledge. Like Wall and Milbert, McElhinney has recently turned to printmaking to allow the images in his sketchbooks to reach a wider audience.

McElhinney is drawn to the Hudson for all of these reasons and whereas the prints based on Wall and Milbert might encourage travel, McElhinney believes in the process of coming to the river and drawing its scenery as a commitment to personal enrichment: “I promote mindful travel and engagement with nature, as a process that benefits both humans and the environment.”

McElhinney earned art degrees from Tyler School of Art and Yale University. He has taught painting and drawing throughout his career, including at the University of Colorado at Denver and the Art Students League in New York. His work is in numerous collections, including the Albany Institute of History and Art, the Asheville Art Museum, Avery Fine Art and Architecture Library at Columbia University, Boscobel House and Gardens, the Chrysler Museum, and the Denver Art Museum. He was the recipient of a prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, which funded the production of his limited-edition archival pigment prints: Hudson Highlands: North River Suite Volume One and O.T.W. The Schuylkill River, both published by Needlewatcher Editions.

McElhinney encourages all of us to engage in the age-old art of seeing and mindfulness, slower paced and offering insights that often prove elusive in the momentary snap of our phone cameras.

 

 

This exhibition was made possible in part by: Andrew Drabkin, Robert Lyons, and Janet Wilson Smith.

Curated by Laura Vookles, Chair, Hudson River Museum Curatorial Department.

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James L. McElhinney. Yonkers from State Line Park, 2019. From The Palisades. Courtesy the artist.