An Interview with Evanston artist Collin R. McCanna

July 17, 2018

Collin R. McCanna is an Evanston artist who is the latest to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. His exhibit [TERRA SERENA] is currently on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library where you can catch it through August 1st. Featuring a dozen large-scale acrylic paintings that “simplify landscapes to their purest form,” McCanna hopes his show will help viewers “experience a bit of calm and serenity amidst their busy lives.” You can learn more about McCanna’s work by visiting his website, and we recently spoke with him via email about his artistic origins, creative process, and getting inspired by Chicagoland art museums.

Evanston Public Library: Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist?

Collin R. McCanna: I studied Art History at the American University of Rome, graduated from Lawrence University for Studio Art with an emphasis in Printmaking, and the Lawrence Conservatory of Music for Percussion Performance. Since moving to the city, I have performed music and exhibited paintings at various venues in Evanston and the Chicago area.

EPL: How did you get started in art? Was there something specific in your life that sparked a need to create? What drove you in the beginning? What drives you now? 

CRM: My mom majored in advertising and art and was a professional graphic designer and layout artist. She encouraged our creativity! Growing up, my brother, sister and I were fortunate enough to have an art room, fully stocked with easels, paper, paint, pastels, crayons, and colored pencils… She even set me up with a professional drawing board in my bedroom!

During elementary school and beyond, I was enrolled in the Arts Program for the Talented and Gifted. All my art teachers were encouraging and supportive of my creativity. I owe a lot to them.

What inspires and drives my creativity now is my wife, Kara. She is a violin maker and a talented artist too!

EPL: How do you describe your paintings? Do you see yourself as fitting in with any particular artistic movements or styles?

CRM: I would describe my paintings as Minimalist, with elements of abstract expressionism and formalism. Color choice is a meaningful element of my work as well.

I am a big fan and follower of Color Field paintings. I am particularly influenced by the shapes, lines, and colors of artists Ellsworth Kelly, and the late Ralph Coburn. A friend and art critic once remarked my work was “channeling [Mark] Rothko”.

EPL: Do you work in any other mediums?

CRM: Indeed! It is very important to diversify! Aside from painting, I also draw, design, shoot photos, and play drums.

EPL: Can you take us through your creative process for a specific painting?

CRM: Absolutely! Before beginning, I have an idea in mind and a strong desire for the art I am going to compose. The subject matter, a natural landscape, for example, is visually complex and I reduce and simplify the image as best as possible.

I take detailed measurements, divide the surface of the canvas, and strategically place Painter’s Tape to create hard edges and straight lines. I set visual boundaries, but also leave room for the organic elements of the artwork, such as the brushstrokes and the natural blending of colors. It also takes a little bit of luck and magic.

The ideal result is to create a strong work of art- an image that can be widely interpreted and appreciated.

EPL: What are your future goals and plans as an artist?

CRM: My plan is to continue to create art, make music, and to invest in the cultural opportunities of the community. I would like to be able to share my work with more people as well. My future goal is to design my lifestyle in which there will always be time for creativity!

EPL: How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live? 

CRM: I love this place. The area has so much to offer in work and in play. As said before, I wish I had more time to explore all the cultural opportunities and the enjoyable events to attend!

As an artist, I am inspired by all the museums in the area. I appreciate The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Block Museum of Art, to name a few. This community has endless opportunities for discovery and exploration. It also supports the chance to network and collaborate with other like-minded people. I am grateful to be living here.

Interview by Russell J.


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