Many of the greatest gifts worth celebrating can’t be purchased in a store. For Wilmington painter Ann Parks McCray, it’s the very act of creating that she celebrates most.
“Every human being is a creator,” McCray says. “Whether it’s music or visual art or dance, it’s important to create because it wakes up and nurtures those seeds planted within us.”
Now on display through the holidays, the blossoms of those seeds—a diverse collection of art, craft and jewelry from the gallery’s many artists—are on display in the New Elements Gallery 31st Annual Holiday Show.
“This isn’t your typical holiday show,” says Miriam Oehrlein, owner of New Elements. “We want it to feel magical but not traditional.”
That’s not a difficult feat for Oehrlein, considering much of the work in New Elements is anything but traditional. That includes the work of McCray, who describes her style as “post-impressionist with a modern twist,” inspired by the compositions of greats like Monet and Kandinsky. The latter of whom the artist credits as moving her away from strictly representational work.
Whether the strokes on the canvas paint a clear picture or not, the greatest source of inspiration for McCray is an obvious one. “Nature is where I find my inspiration,” she notes. “Even on the greyest, coldest day, there is something beautiful out there. I find tremendous peace, comfort and joy in nature.”
A lifelong painter who studied studio art at Amarillo College in Texas, McCray has found no shortage of inspiration in Wilmington. She relocated here a number of years ago, in what she calls a “conscious move.”
“As a visual artist, the natural beauty of the area really draws you,” she states. McCray especially enjoys Wilmington’s access to water via beaches, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Cape Fear River. Even the pond behind the artist’s home has inspired her work.
In her piece, “Celebrating Essentials” (60 by 48 inches, oil on canvas), small blocks of olive greens and misty blues outline the branches of pine trees that tower over swaths of algae-like greens and browns. It suggests the murky waters of a small pond.
“It may or may not be water in the foreground,” McCray explains. “My paintings are open to individual interpretation, and I enjoy so much hearing what people take from them.”
It is this same freedom of interpretation that also dictates McCray’s technique. She paints loosely with oil (and occasionally with acrylic), using brushes, palette knives and even kitchen utensils to create impasto-like strokes on canvas.
Without photographs or even so much as a preconceived idea, McCray follows her intuition as she paints, using bright, natural colors and mirrors to conjure light. It provides a different perspective during the process. It’s not unusual for the artist to flip a painting upside down or sideways, using the painting’s reflection to reveal areas where the canvas needs further development.
“I feel like I’m just painting energy or light,” says McCray, who often loses track of time while she works. “I enjoy creating movement in my paintings because that’s a function of painting intuitively and quickly, and not overthinking the process.”
One thing McCray is cognizant of while she works: her joy.
“For me, the process itself is so gratifying, but the paintings have to go out,” she says. “These are meant to be shared, and it’s when they’re shared and others find joy and happiness in them, that the process completes itself.”
And isn’t that what the true spirit of the giving season is all about?
Art-goers will find gift ideas for the holidays, including handcrafted mugs from Michael Lalone of the John C. Campbell Folk School; David Goldhagen’s blown glass pumpkins and ornaments; the rustic copper jewelry of Kee Wilde-Ramsing; and Lázaro Salsita’s endearing 3D seabirds, which the Cuban artist created a few short weeks ago during his stay in Bald Head Island during the 18th No Boundaries International Art Colony. For more traditional art lovers, masterly oil painter Janet Triplett has stolen the show with her piece “Party’s Over,” and Susan Mauney’s watercolor, titled “Empty Porch No. 37,” contrasts beautifully against a gold-leaf sky.
This year’s Holiday Show will benefit The Carousel Center, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing safe spaces for abused and neglected children. Gallery patrons and those who purchase raffle tickets in support of the charity will be entered to win a $300 gift certificate to the gallery.