Kevin McKay - Towers and Spires: Vaucluse Paintings - Part Two

In Kevin McKay - Towers and Spires: Vaucluse Paintings - Part One we saw images of lighthouses, a signal station and a church - each a beacon of guidance for the growing settlement of Sydney. Kevin's current exhibition at May▲Space Online seeks to juxtapose the domestic and contemporary with the historical and heroic, as our homes have become our bastions in recent times.1

Today we enjoy and appreciate some of Kevin's paintings of residental buildings found around Sydney’s South Head Peninsula.

Towers and Spires continue to grace the skyline in Kevin McKay's paintings but the guidance from historic sources such as lighthouses have been replaced with modern inventions as portrayed below in Three steeples - Newcastle St Rose Bay. Kevin expounds the thinking behind his painting in this way:

A conjunction of church spires catches my eye on the drive down Old South Head Rd. The church on the corner is now a childcare centre. The sacred is countered further by a pedestrian island that dominates the foreground where street lights and a pole sprouting signs now show us the way.1

Three steeples - Newcastle St Rose Bay, 2021. Oil on canvas 37.5 x 50 cm. © Kevin McKay

Also gracing the skyline is Sydney Harbour and Bridge that joins the north of the city to the south. But as Kevin points out in the description below there are far more narrative threads in this scene than the iconic features recognised by the world.

Bell St corner - Watsons Bay, 2021. Oil on canvas 50 x 50 cm © Kevin McKay

Bell St corner - Watsons Bay

A white house dominates a corner of the Old South Head Road as it sweeps down to Watsons Bay. Shifting tones in the shadows modulates its brutalist geometries. A random collection of street furniture finds its own geometric order oblivious to the postcard view of Sydney’s harbour and iconic bridge. The prominent garage and parked car alludes to the daily transit that links residents to this fixed point in the busy city. 1

We are all aware of the clashes that occur between time periods especially when the old must be sacrificied for the new. Sometimes, however, as so beautifully illustrated below, structures from different eras can co-habitate in relative harmony.

25 Military Rd - Watsons Bay, 2021. Oil on board 27.5 x 36 cm © Kevin McKay

25 Military Rd - Watsons Bay, 2021

Time periods collide in one residential view. A stone house references colonial times, a humble weatherboard cottage reflects a working class period, while a Besser block wall and parked car provide more contemporary markers. A trace of the natural environment that still clings to the coastline is glimpsed at the rear. I also liked the formal relationships, between the complementaries red and green.1

The discerning eye of an artist notices also that construction shapes from the past are repeated. Below in Myall Ave corner - Vaucluse the nautical form of a lighthouse tower appears to be incorporated in an Art Deco house opposite the Signal Station, which boasts a harbour view complete with Sydney’s iconic bridge and Opera House, and all beneath the shifting structures of the clouds above.1

Myall Ave corner - Vaucluse, 2021. Oil on board 27.5 x 36 cm © Kevin McKay

Historic markers remain where they were place but go largely unnoticed until they appear in a Kevin McKay painting and regain some recognition and dignity. The Obelisk - Watsons Bay was posted by Gov Macquarie to mark the completion of the “South Head Rd” in 1811. It seemed appropriate to acknowledge this historical artery to the South Head Peninsula which also served as the conduit for the landmarks in this series. Dunbar House stands behind the obelisk. I liked the surreal collage effect of a parked car, poking out behind the Moreton Bay Fig Tree. The picnic table reflects the continuing attraction of this Harbourside location as a place of recreation. The obelisk inscription reads: "This Road made By Subscription Was compleated in ten Weeks from the 25 of march 1811 By 21 Soldiers of His Majesty's 73 Reghiment.” (Sic) 1

Obelisk - Watsons Bay, 2021. Oil on canvas 40 x 60 cm © Kevin McKay

All Kevin's paintings are about a sense of place - how the historic and the contemporary (and everything in between) can coexist and how these buildings are connected through the narrative threads of the people who have lived and worked in them. In The Avenue Dentist - Rose Bay (below) a high density apartment rises above a modest leafy home that is utilised now as a business. A sense of place remains though, bonding both like an island within an urban sea. Incidental conjunctions of 'road furniture' provide more localised focal points within the ennui of the urban commute.1

The Avenue Dentist - Rose Bay. Oil on board 30.5 x 40.5 cm © Kevin McKay

And sometimes an empty building such as the Vacant shop - Rose Bay is a reminder of a past time, earlier lives that were once part of the fabric and are now gone - but a sense of their presence remains - the leaning power pole a symbol perhaps of the precariousness of existence.

A corner shop provides a common landmark in a residential patchwork. Its vacancy renders it as a relic to a recent past. A leaning power pole frames an ambiguous central space that serves as the still point in this busy composition.1

Vacant shop - Rose Bay, 2021. Oil on board 27.5 x 36 cm © Kevin McKay

Kevin Mckay's works remind us that many beautiful historic buildings remain in Sydney.

St Michael’s - Vaucluse -an Anglican church began as modest chapel designed by Edmund Blacket, whose little country churches are ubiquitous throughout NSW. Its stoic form, grand steeple, and proud flag reflect colonial aesthetics in a view that could belong to the “motherland”. The picturesque is countered by graphic road markings, signage and power poles. Despite their seemingly careless placement the latter echo the form of the steeple's crucifix.1

St Michael’s - Vaucluse, 2021. Oil on canvas 40 x 50 cm © Kevin McKay

We will conclude today's post by looking out from Camp Cove jetty on the little beach, just inside the South Head Peninsula, where the First Fleet camped before reaching Sydney Cove. From Kevin's perspective:

It now provides priceless water views for the fortunate few who live here and the day-trippers, like myself, who get the view for free. The tiny weather board structure at the end of the jetty seems to represent the individual against the masses in the city across the harbour.1

Camp Cove jetty, 2021. Oil on board, 27.5 x 36 cm © Kevin McKay

© Thank you to Kevin McKay who kindly gave permission for the images of his work to be shared on AnArt4Life. A special thank you also for the contribution Kevin made to the explanatory text accompanying the images of his paintings.

We wish Kevin all the best with the exhibition and look forward to seeing where he leads us next in his creative journey. Kevin is also an art teacher and so if you live in Sydney and would like to learn to draw or paint please check out his website for more details.

1. Description of painting provided by Kevin McKay

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