When Jenny McKinnon Wright was 8 years old in Rowland, NC, she watched in awe as her Aunt Sarah sat outside to paint underneath a tree. It was Wright’s first introduction to plein-air expression. “At that moment I was fascinated with the whole process,” Wright recalls, “and that memory stayed with me.”
Though her love for music (she studied under a Juilliard graduate who happened to be her cousin) didn’t offer too many opportunities in rural NC, she switched gears to art. Wright graduated from ECU and went on to do graduate work at Georgia State University. She learned about the old masters, post impressionists and abstract artists during her courses of study. But when she took a workshop with Perry Austin, and learned to work with oils, she fell in love with plein-air all over again. “It brings all the senses into play at once,” Wright explains, “making that connection with nature’s colors and atmosphere more alive.”
Wright’s latest works will be on display at Bellamy Mansion in “As I See It,” featuring 32 paintings, ranging from 8-inches-by-10-inches to 24-inches-by-30-inches and $250 to $1,400. Wright will have giclée reproductions for sell for $50. Partial proceeds of sales go to the Bellamy Mansion’s outreach.
“Proceeds from the art exhibits go to our free community events and programming, such as these art exhibits, lectures, Family Fun Day and other events,” says Bellamy’s development manager, Carolyn Gonzalez.
Wright has always flexed her creative muscles in some form or another. She first worked in a fabric showroom in Atlanta before going on to teach art. When she moved to NC, she operated an interior-design business for 19 years and taught private art lessons. She also immersed herself into local theatre.
“There’s nothing I love more than musical theatre because of the tremendous depth of talent and support within my theatre family here,” she says. “It really is a team sport!”
“Impressionism allows an artist such individuality,” Wright says. “You’re not copying but interpreting a scenic moment in time as you see it.”
Wright’s subject matter in “As I See It” highlights area waterways, farm lands and lush landscape. She also has included a few figurative pieces and mixed-media works. Wright hones in on serene scenes that could easily transpose one’s memory of place and time, like a self-reflective moment watching the waves break on rocks in “Exuma Splash” or a fishing boat rocking through rough waters in “Open Arms.”
“Take Me Out” was inspired by a trip to Bald Head Island during summertime. Wright snapped a photo of vibrant boats and speckled light along a creek. An upside-down red kayak became her focal point, as she patterned trees in the background, canopying rays of light throughout the painting.
“The value manipulation and relationship between shapes was at play,” Wright details of her technique. “The three major shapes, the three boats, had to relate and yet differ in intensity. . . The ground and its dancing light patterns are fun elements to guide viewers throughout the scene.”
Works aren’t always complete on the first go-round for Wright. Knowing when to walk away sometimes proves difficult. “Monet was known to paint on pieces as they hung in exhibitions,” she reminds. In fact, during our interview, Wright still was creating a sunrise over the ocean. The five photos of the painting-in-progress move in succession: a map of lines and color blocks in dark purple, olive green, ruddy blue and ochre take shape of where the ocean breaks the sand and the sun peeks through the horizon, illuminating a pier in “Wake Up, World.” It will be on display along with Wright’s other works during the Fourth Friday Gallery Night at Bellamy on September 27.
“The reception will feature wine and cheese,” Gonzalez says. “This is an opportunity for the artist to meet and greet guests.”
Wright’s show is one of six the Bellamy hosts annually. Their next exhibit will be on October 20 for “The Gathering.” “It’s an event to recognize the research and interpretive advancements made in regards to the enslaved men, women and children who lived on the Bellamy site prior to the Civil War,” Gonzalez says.
2019 will continue to be busy for Wright as well. She will have an exhibit at the Burgwin-Wright House Museum in October, and participate in Wrightsville Beach Museum’s annual paint out and sale. Plus, she will do the Art in the Arboretum show in November, all the while submitting more work to Sunset River Marketplace.
“I just want to be a better painter,” Wright says. “That will help achieve some of my other goals.”