Houses Among the Trees, Fabreville, Que., 2021
RFM McInnis is a prolific artist whose work can be found in prestigious galleries in major cities, as well as in private and corporate collections. He has painted portraits of famous Canadians such as Margaret Atwood, Peter Pocklington, Maureen McTeer and Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, among others. Yet, after his…
RFM McInnis is a prolific artist whose work can be found in prestigious galleries in major cities, as well as in private and corporate collections. He has painted portraits of famous Canadians such as Margaret Atwood, Peter Pocklington, Maureen McTeer and Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, among others. Yet, after his more than 40 years of making a living as a respected and successful artist, he still has “stage fright” when faced with blank canvas.
Perhaps it has something to so with his struggle with interpretation and likeness, his quest to paint what he is feeling inside. The complex nature of McInnis’ art speaks to his constant evolution, an evolution that has ultimately brought him to Winnipeg.
Born and educated in Saint John, New Brunswick, McInnis received a diploma of fine arts. In the early 1960’s, following a brief career as a newspaper reporter, he was hired as a Royal Canadian Air Force photographer, a post he held for five years. At this time he discovered an early influence: The Group of Seven.
“I loved the bold impact and Canadian nationalism,” McInnis says. “These were people painting the image I felt inside.”
Inspired, art became his livelihood and over the next four decades McInnis criss-crossed the country on a journey of discovery, of himself and of his art. He travelled first to Vancouver, then to Toronto where he established his reputation as a figurative artist. He moved to Calgary during the 1980’s boom where his new artistic expressions-strong landscapes-were highly sought after by corporate clients. He then returned east to Montreal and Ottawa. Alberta beckoned him again in the 1990’s, and first Edmonton, then Fort MacLeod became home for a time. Through these travels, McInnis became deeply connected to the landscapes and the people of Canada.
McInnis’ figurative works depict mainly women in various states of dress and undress. He relies on live female models to establish his subject matter first through a line drawing, and then transforms them in his painted work with an instinctive rather than an observed approach. Using simple shapes, McInnis employs pales against pales, darks against darks and high contrasts to pull out the essence of his subject.
“I paint more of what I feel and less of what I see,” he says. McInnis employs unusual angles to tilt the surface for the viewer, diverging from the normal perspective to add another intriguing psychological element.
“At heart I’m an abstract painter that needs subject matter,” McInnis remarks. “I need a certain level of detail to keep it interesting.”
With a mantra of “essence, simplicity and flat surface,” he strives to respect the integrity of the canvas by using brushwork to create a feeling of flatness. He provides just enough information that the subject has impact, but without giving everything away.
This careful balancing act between abstract and detail is explored in his latest series, “Figures on the Prairies,” which depicts human forms against a backdrop of prairie landscapes. The theme was inspired by his move to Winnipeg, his home since 2005. For him, Winnipeg was a new unknown, “a small new place to explore,” says McInnis, who shares a light-filled 3,000 square foot studio/duplex with his wife Francoise, a weaver.
With a keen interest in history and historical figures, and inspired by Winnipeg’s people, streetscapes and prairie roots, McInnis says here he has found subject matter that “I can sink my brush into.”
In “Figures on the Prairies,” each painting explores the juxtaposition of a person with the suggestion of landscape. The result is two portraits, each jockeying for dominance but never quite succeeding. It is this tension that makes McInnis’ work so dynamic and riveting.
McInnis used to separate his photography from his art, but since coming to Winnipeg he has made the discovery that photography frees him from the use of live models. “This is a huge transition for me,” he says. This is just one example of his relentless examination and reinvention of his approach to his art.
“I need to prove myself constantly,” McInnis admits. “When faced with a blank canvas, I’m dealing with the anxiety of success or failure. Failure is not an option.” The act of painting by instinct rather that observation continues to be a challenge for McInnis, but when he finally applies his brush to the canvas, “It is the absolute truth of my inner being.”
McInnis’ work can also be viewed at www.rfmmcinnis.ca
-Leigh Patterson Style Manitoba: Summer Issue 2008