|FARM ACROSS THE SWALE (2001), BY THOMAS McNICKLE|
ACQUIRED FROM JERALD MELBERG GALLERY, CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA, MARCH 2002
WATERCOLOR AND PASTELS ON PAPER, 24 5/8" BY 39 1/4"
Each time I see new work by Thomas McNickle, I am more and more impressed. When he came to Charlotte in late February 2002 to deliver works for a new show, I happened to drop into Jerald Melberg Gallery just as he was there. He had a whole stack of new work, most of it not even framed yet, many of the works depicting the rural countryside of northwestern Pennsylvania, where Thomas lives. Of the works I browsed through that day, this one made a huge impression on me.
In this work, Thomas demonstrates masterful use of light to show a farmhouse and its adjoining barn at what appears to me to be the end of a very nice day. The farmhouse is in the shade of trees, while the barn and the cows standing next to it are just catching the last rays of sun. (The sun is somewhere behind the viewer's left shoulder.) Since the sun has still not set, the sky is an amazingly clear shade of light blue.
As with Winter Shadows From The Hilltop, Thomas has created an image that, from across the room, almost looks like a photograph. When you move closer to the work, you can see the combination of crisp watercolor lines and broad swatches of pastel. When I asked Thomas how he managed to create the razor sharp lines of the buildings and trees in the midst of a huge expanse of sky (watercolor doesn't usually allow you to paint on top of existing color), he told me that he uses masking tape to block out where the buildings and basic tree shapes will go, and then paints the sky... when he removes the tape, he has white spaces in which he can paint his buildings and trees.
I guess the thing that impresses me the most about this work is the incredible way in which Thomas has captured the quality of the light... if you looked at this same scene five minutes before or after the moment that Thomas has painted, the lighting would be totally different. I love the way the brightly-lit, reddish barn contrasts with the rest of the painting, which is mostly green and mostly in shade.
A funny story about the title of this work... when I was browsing through the new works, I noticed that the title written on the back of this work was Farm Across The Swail. When I pointed out to Thomas that the word "Swail" should actually be spelled "Swale", he joked that the real title of the work was actually Farm Across The Snail. He did correct the title, though, and to commemorate the joke, he drew a picture of a snail on the back of the work and personalized it to me.
This is definitely one of the most impressive watercolor paintings I have ever seen.
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