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Bill McNamara by Maire Vieth
It’s Happening Already by Bill McNamara
It’s Happening Already by Bill McNamara

William McNamara breathes art. He inhales it. And he exhales it. Whether it is his daily life, the popular culture that surrounds him, or the work of other artists, McNamara absorbs it all, and when he paints, he blasts it out again, like a fresh breeze coming down the Delaware.

Bill McNamara’s day job is moving furniture across the country for Moody Movers. Sometimes he moves furniture made in New Hope’s George Nakashima’s studio. He also climbs trees in his father’s tree surgeon business during the summer. McNamara paints every night after work. “My paintings are inspired by the things I do and the people I deal with. I incorporate the daily routines at work in my art, the people I work with, the people I work for. The good and the bad. Everything from difficult situations and obnoxious people to little children who draw our moving trucks. I throw them into my paintings and unload my creative imagination.” That is how McNamara finds a balance between his work and his art.

Grace Croteau, Artsbridge Founding Member and owner of Riverrun Gallery, represents William McNamara. She is a real fan. “Bill’s paintings are very fresh. Everything that goes through Bill’s sensibilities comes out in paint. He is very modest, but he is giving us his life histories. And he loves art very much, every part of it.”

Bill became a painter feeding off the life around him. He did not go to art school. “I was reading beat poetry, comic books. I was listening to music of the 1970s. I looked at the word abstractions of John Baldessari and the art of Ken Grimes, Mike Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Larry Clarke.” He still develops his technique by examining the work of other artists. “I read about painters and painting all the time. I read about everything from Southern Folk artists to German Expressionism. You can learn something from anybody who is painting. The good and the bad. And then I just paint, paint, paint, paint...”

McNamara’s knowledge of art is profound. He has a huge pool of names sitting on the tip of his tongue. When I told him that I had just been to Australia and visited an art gallery there, he generated a long list of Australian artists whose work he admires and who have influenced him.

McNamara’s art is primitive and contemporary. Both elements can be seen in the evolution of his series of horse paintings. He started out painting child-like portraits of horses against plain backgrounds. The horses are called Blue Boy, Laughing Boy, Dog Lover, etc.

More recently, McNamara has turned the horses surreal and abstract. In “Horse Anatomy,” the beast’s eyes are floating and teeth stand in a vertical row. Horses like “Daredevils” and “Early Birds” are surrounded by cartoon characters, speech bubbles, children’s drawings, newspaper articles, and other images. In some of McNamara’s paintings, the background has pushed the horse so off the board that the background is now the subject. Moody Movers trucks, embroidered fabric, children’s drawings, notes, poetry sketches, receipts make up a visual mixed-media diary.

Abstract paintings like these, says McNamara, “take time. There is more color and light involved, more layering. You have to know how you want to manipulate things. There are lots of ugly stages until the paintings come around, but once they have, they are definitely satisfying.”

McNamara’s newest series features music. He has painted a folk portrait of Hank Williams before, and has now moved to album covers that are important to him, like Jimmy Hendrix’s Electric Lady Land, the Beatles’ Let It Be, or a record by Blind Faith.

The fresh air Grace Croteau feels breezing through McNamara’s work is something McNamara consciously creates. “I like paintings more loose,” he says, “not so much thought out. I try to just let the painting come together. Having mistakes in a painting is part of it. You can always come back the next day, week or month, and straighten them out. Sometimes it is better to leave the mistake in. You edit yourself, but you have to be able to let the things outside your control speak for themselves.