Geraldine McKeown

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Geraldine McKeown is a painter who lives and works on picturesque farm in Fair Hill near historic Elkton, Maryland. Geraldine says art is a connection to the inner soul and that each painting is a direct response to a subject that has touched her emotionally. Geraldine finds that inspiration all around her.

I spoke to Geraldine recently in her studio where she told me that she began taking painting classes with adults at an early age, and had some success pretty quickly.

Geraldine McKeown:
"My grandmother made arrangements for me to go to adult education at night. So I started oil painting when I was twelve, and had my first solo show at the school when I was thirteen. So I've just continued to paint since then. I had some art in college. But in the sixties they were not interested in what I was doing then. I've always loved realism."

Geraldine left school and but continued her education by taking workshops with artists who still valued representational art. It was a foregone conclusion that her life's work would be as a painter. Geraldine says that the creative roots run deep in her family.

Geraldine McKeown:
"I've traced it back to the earliest ancestor I can find was a Quaker who came here in 1708 and I found in the Quaker archives at Swarthmore that he did political cartoons about the British before the revolution. His name was Benjamin Chandlee."

Geraldine has painted the Brick Meeting House where her ancestor worshiped which is in nearby Calvert, Maryland a number of times in different seasons. Her approach to this historic rural scene with its 300 year old oak tree evokes a strong sense of tradition. This can be seen in its tranquil composition and her adherence to the discipline of transparent watercolors.

Geraldine McKeown:
"Well, you don't use white paint because it is opaque and it will muddy your colors and give them a whole other characteristic. The white mixed with the colors takes away the transparency and the luminosity. So anything that would be white or light in your painting you save the white paper. And you paint around it or if it is complex you use masking agents. I work from light to dark."

"You have to learn the nature of the pigments, how to work with them, and how to build the layers of color from light to dark. Even though my watercolors are more tightly rendered I like the luminosity that comes with them. I like the way the water mingles on the paper and interesting things happen. So that's primary thing. I also like the speed of it"

Geraldine says art is a connection to the inner soul and that each painting is a direct response to a subject that has touched her emotionally. Geraldine finds that inspiration all around her.

Geraldine McKeown:
"I see something that, something that I just, something about I just think is beautiful. And I think it has something worthy of capturing that and letting other people see the beauty in some little moment that you saw in that day in your life."

If a composition sparks her imagination she usually has a title in mind before going any further. Geraldine then makes sketches or takes photographs of the scene. If she is plein air painting she continues to create her painting on site but if it is a scene she is catching on the fly she returns to the studio to create the painting. Though she may do many studies, she works on one painting at a time. Water colors dry quickly so she often produces one large painting and two or three smaller works every week.

The color in Geraldine's paintings is what she calls local color.

Geraldine McKeown:
"I tend to have always been literal, the local color, but I've been trying to open myself up a little more not only to the literal color but thinking about color theory and thinking about warm versus cool, thinking about the temperatures."

Early in Geraldine's career she invest time in juried competitions which brought her recognition and sales success. When the film "Beloved" was produced on location in the Elkton area she was commission to paint a landscape of iconic cottage that was used in exterior scenes. This painting was given as a thank you for all the economic gain the film brought to the region, to producer Oprah Winfrey. She graciously accepted the work of art personally. The painting has been photographed in Ms. Winfrey's home dining room.

But Geraldine does not rest on her laurels. She still wants to expand her knowledge and experience.

Geraldine McKeown:
"I've been working in watercolor for over thirty years. So I am ready to do some other things. I've been doing some watercolor portraits, which is new for me. And I have been going back to oils. And I've been doing some plein air nocturnes, just simply for myself. And I have been enjoying that; doing that on the full moon."

"For me, and I think I have heard other artists too, we're just always looking at the world, our mind is just always looking at the world as subject matter for a painting. And I told my students this funny story that one day we were taking paintings to Annapolis. I am in a gallery in Annapolis. I didn't mention that. I do a lot of shows (competitions), I do more gallery shows. So I was delivering paintings to the gallery there and I said to my husband, "Today I don't want to think about art. I just want to go… Let's go in this nice pub and we'll have a nice lunch. I'm just going to tune out from art."

"So we went in and the pub had skylights and the light was falling in on to this beautiful mosaic floor and the wood of the bar... and I was watching the bartender... and I just watched for about a half an hour and I couldn't stand it anymore. Finally I got out my camera and I snuck a few pictures and I asked the bartender if I could use them in my paintings. And, he said yes. So, we just can't tune out of seeing the world as our subject."

Geraldine just finished a show this Spring in Elkton at The Palette & The Page gallery and bookstore.