Arthur Fortescue McKay

About the Artist

Art McKay was born in Nipawin, Saskatchewan in 1926. He studied at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (now the Southern Alberta Insitute of Technology) in Calgary from 1946 to 1948, and then at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, France, the following year. He also studied at Columbia University and the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania in 1956 and 1957, traveling back and forth between New York and Merion for classes.

“It was at the Barnes Foundation that I learned how to see,” McKay wrote in 1978. “Work after work was painstakingly described for us; set in reference to other works by the same and different artists, styles and periods. Physical qualities, not secondary information like names, dates and locations, were emphasized.”

At Columbia, McKay attended a lecture by Daisetz T. Suzuki, a visiting professor of oriental philosophy. Enchanted, he bought Suzuki’s book, Zen Buddhism, and for the next ten years read and studied various aspects of  ZenA Chinese and Japanese school of Buddhism which claims that enlightenment can be attained through meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition rather than through scriptures. (Artlex.com)  writing and painting. Throughout his life McKay’s interests have been psychology, philosophy, and the history and philosophy of religions and science. The teachings of Zen Buddhism have had a lasting effect on his life.

McKay is one of many Saskatchewan artists influenced by the Emma Lake Artists Workshops. It was at the 1959 workshop, led by New York artist Barnett Newman, that he experienced release from whatever was blocking his artistic development.  McKay says. Following the workshop he threw away his paints and bushes and spent eight months  drawingDepiction of shapes and forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines. Colour and shading may be included. A major fine art technique in itself, drawing is the basis of all pictorial representation, and an early step in most art activities. Though an integral part of most painting, drawing is generally differentiated from painting by the dominance of line over mass. There are many sorts of drawing techniques, varying according to the effect the artist wants, and depending on whether the drawing is an end in itself — an independent and finished work of art -- or a preliminary to some other medium or form — although distinct from the final product, such drawings also have intrinsic artistic value. Preliminary drawings include various exercises (e.g., contour drawing, gesture drawing, figure drawing, drawing from the flat), as well as sketches and studies, cartoons and underdrawings. (Artlex.com)  on large sheets of paper with a pencil, and then using blackboard paint and a  paletteA slab of wood, metal, marble, ceramic, plastic, glass, or paper, sometimes with a hole for the thumb, which an artist can hold while painting and on which the artist mixes paint. Anything from ice trays to disposable paper or Styrofoam plates might be used as a palette. A pane of glass with a white piece of paper attached to its underside makes a fine palette. It's especially versatile because the color of the paper back can be made to match a painting's ground, making colors easier to choose. The term "palette" may also refer to the range of colors used in a particular painting or by a particular artist. (artlex.com)  knife to move and  shapeAn element of art, it is an enclosed space defined and determined by other art elements such as line, colour, value, and texture. In painting and drawing, shapes may take on the appearance of a solid three-dimensional object even though they are limited to two dimensions — length and width. This two-dimensional character of shape distinguishes it from form, which has depth as well as length and width. Examples of shapes include: circle, oval, and oblong; polygons such as triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, trapezoid, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon, undecagon, dodecagon, etc.; and such other kinds of shapes as amorphous, biomorphous, and concretion. (Artlex.com)  the paint, before settling on the circle paintings he is best known for.

Palette Knife

McKay is widely known as a member of The Regina Five. The name originated from an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario in 1961, Five Painters from Regina. McKay gained international recognition when his work was included in the Post Painterly Abstraction show in Los Angeles in 1964.

“Words are suited to the exposition of ideas. Paintings expose themselves to anyone who responds thoughtfully.” – Art McKay, in an  artist statementA commentary by an artist on an artwork, and exhibition, belief system, or any other topic.  from 1961.


Interview with Timothy Long - The Regina Five
Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning