A retrospective view of Mac Gregory's Paintings
"No great artist ever sees things as they realm are,
if he did, he would cease to be an artist".- Oscar Wilde
Only posterity can decide whether an artist is great or not - though not all great artists have eared the fame they deserve. What can be said about Mac Gregory is that he is unquestionably an artist and sees things in his own individual way. Not only does he see but he is able to convert his vision into paintings of immediate impact and originality. One of his main subjects over the past 60 years has been the landscape of the Fens. Whenever this still unique landscape is mentioned it is not long before comment is made about the great Fenland skies, space, distances and sunsets. It is an area too readily pounced upon as a challenge to painters, but remains the most difficult landscape to paint. Not many artists successfully capture those subtle, fleeting moments of cloud, sunlight storm, or wind on water, weed or grass.
That Gregory does so, frequently, is indicative of his creative skills and perception Wisely, he often focuses on the particular rather than the whole and makes the viewer see the space that is there but cannot be reduced to a canvas. Yet, because of his knowledge of the landscape he can fill his paintings with a genuine atmosphere of the place, in all its seasons. He interprets rather than copies nature. There is always more happening in his work than is immediately apparent to the eye. He suggests what is beyond the obvious and hints at what has been or is still to come. He makes us aware of the history and timelessness of a landscape that has been subjected to many conflicts in nature, especially that constant struggle between water and the land which man has tried to reclaim. In his paintings Time is like his clouds, both static and moving, both the beginning and the end.
One quality that distinguishes his work from all others is his very individual sense of colour, whether he uses pastel shades of serenity or vivid, dramatic tones which threaten with the power of nature itself. There is a dynamic force in his work that one feels is only just held this side of some explosive violence, like the land itself. It can brood, or erupt. When Gregory is in this mood his work has tremendous energy. When he wishes to be reflective he can create nuances of nocturnal eloquence and stillness.
But it would be a mistake to think of Mac Gregory as no more than an artist of the Fens. Some of his most colourful work has been inspired by landscapes in America and Australia, where his love of vibrant colours gives him the scope to be extravagant. In these works one can appreciate even more the potent sense of rhythm that pervades most of his canvases.
Movement is as important to him as stillness, and the inter-play of shape and colour is an essential part of his individuality. His closely-observed representations of foliage, for instance, only half conceal a pathway into a spacious interior where the distance is even more profound arid haunting.
There is also an erotic quality about many of Gregory's paintings where the naked human form is seen as a temptation to nature itself, as if he is trying to regain some Eden-like innocence before it was exploited. Eve walks in his gardens, her modesty once again shielded only by leaves.
There is also irony and wit, as well as provocation, all of which make him a serious and thoughtful artist who wants his paintings to make a statement.
Although his paintings are born out of a private world, it is a world we share and we need the eyes of the artist to make us see the familiar, the world in which we daily live. Artists may not always see things as they are, or as we think they are, but without them we would miss more than half of what is always there, and which we lightly take for granted. Having known Mac Gregory's work now for four decades, it has been a constant joumey of discovery into perception and wonder.
As Ernst Gombrich said,
"To marvel is the beginning of knowledge,
and when we cease to marvel we are in danger of ceasing to know."