Woodstock Artist Bruce Currie
At Windham Fine Arts
Bruce Currie, “Woman at her Bath,” 50" x 34", oil on canvas
The Catskill and Hudson Valley regions of New York State are home to some of the finest artists in the world. These painters, sculptors, photographers and fine crafts artists flock to this region to work, finding inspiration not only in the breathtaking landscape but also in the large community of their supportive fellow artists.
Some of these artists are relatively new to the region, while others, like Bruce Currie of Woodstock, have been here for decades. Long a fixture on the Woodstock arts scene, a retrospective of Mr. Currie’s work will be on view at Windham Fine Arts in Windham, NY, from March 13 through April 4. The exhibition, entitled “A Body of Work,” pairs his figural and still-life paintings with the figural works of fellow artist K.L. McKenna. An opening reception for the exhibition will be held on Saturday, March 13, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm. This is a very special exhibition that should not be missed.
In his long career, Mr. Currie has received more than thirty awards from such prestigious organizations as the Adirondacks National Exhibition of American Watercolors, Audubon Artists, the American Watercolor Society, the Berkshire Art Association, the Butler Institute of American Art, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the Cooperstown Art Association, the National Academy of Design, the National Arts Club and the National Society of Painters in Casein & Acrylic. In 1970, he was elected Academician of the National Academy of Design. He has held both solo and group exhibitions in many museums, colleges and art institutions throughout the United States. His work is in innumerable private collections and in the public collections of, among others, the National Academy of Design in New York, the State University of New York at Albany, the Dwight Art Memorial at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, OH, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Kalamazoo, MI, Berkshire Community College and Ulster County Community College in Woodstock.
Born in Sac City, IA, Mr. Currie moved to New York City after demobilization from World War II. He then enrolled at the Art Students League and began studying to become a commercial artist. At the same time, he began visiting Woodstock, frequently, staying with an artist friend. The more time he spent there, surrounded by artists whose interest lay outside the commercial arena, the less appealing his commercial training at the Art Students League seemed to be for him.
By 1945, he had set down his roots in Woodstock and married renowned artist Ethel Magafan (who, with her twin sister Jenne, became widely known for her U.S. government-commissioned murals painted during the Depression). The couple spent many decades as fixtures in the art world, creating art in their wildly different styles in their own studios on opposite sides of their house. They had an unspoken law with each other that neither would comment on the other’s work unless asked to. Advice, when sought after, was extraordinarily helpful to both artists, and the support that the two gave each other throughout their careers is touching. At one point, Ms. Magafan was having a great deal of trouble completing a painting. The more she struggled with it, the unhappier she was with it. She finally asked her husband’s advice. “It looks like you have two paintings here,” he said. “You have one thing going on over here and another going on over here.” Her response? “Get the saw—we’ll cut this painting in two.” The result was two successful paintings, rather than one unsuccessful one.
In turn, Mr. Currie often turned to his wife for inspiration for his paintings. He loved the domestic scenes of late nineteenth/early twentieth century artist Pierre Bonnard, and found himself, too, fascinated with the quietness of domestic life. He often sat sketching his wife as she would go about some domestic task, or even if she was just sitting and reading. His daughter, Jenne, too, often served as the model for his paintings.
Bruce Currie, “Rocky Shore,” 48" x 40", oil on canvas
Bruce Currie, “Still Life with Pink Dish,” 28" x 20", oil on canvas
After creating these sketches, he would begin his paintings by first idealizing the figures into a series of soft geometric forms, then by adding color. Comparisons to Gaugin are inevitable, given that both artists used for their subject matter the people who were closest to them and they both used wide swathes of color defined by strong line. There are, however, some important differences. Gaugin’s choice of color palette was certainly much brighter than Currie’s, and Gaugin used color as his primary means of conveying emotion in his painting. For Currie, however, the subject matter and the evocation of emotion through subject matter is central. Colors are muted and do convey a sense of quiet peace, but they are not the primary means of conveying emotion or meaning in the painting. One of Currie’s strongest paintings, Rocky Shore, shows a touching and intimate scene of a woman and girl (one assumes mother and daughter) sharing a quiet moment together by a rocky outcropping. The subject matter is timeless: we can all relate to quiet moments spent with loved ones. The solid composition, with the figures placed strongly in the foreground and the girl serving as the center anchor of the image, gives the painting an eternal quality. We get the same feeling in Woman at her Bath. Here, we have caught a woman at a private moment. She, however, is completely unaware of our presence, and quietly goes about her routine. Again, she is placed right in the center in the immediate foreground—there are no elements to distract us from the primary, solid image of the woman. Both of these images exist outside the realm of time—they are eternal images of universal appeal.
Keeping these images outside the past, present or future also helps us to understand the subject matter better. In these renderings of private moments, in the hands of a less skilled artist we might feel as if we were looking at something we shouldn’t, as if we were intruders in special events that outsiders weren’t meant to see. Currie, however, makes us feel comfortable in our viewing of these paintings. We are not by any means participants in the event, but Currie makes us feel almost as if the subjects have allowed us to witness these special moments, that they may teach us something about the human spirit.
In contrast to the classicizing and timeless nature of his figural scenes, Currie’s still lifes find their descendents in Cubism and, one might argue, in the art of collage. The objects in his still-lifes are rendered as quasi-geometric forms. Again, compositions are kept so that the image is placed firmly in the foreground and ancillary elements are not allowed to subordinate or distract from that central image.
Don’t miss this opportunity to see the works of this amazing artist. Windham Fine Arts is located at 5380 Main Street in Windham. They are open Friday through Monday, from 12 to 5 pm. For more information, please call the gallery at 518 734 6850 or visit their Web site at www.windhamfinearts.com.