Leader Blues

Monday, March 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> Painter finds inspiration in new library

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville artist Roberta McGrath has donated one of her paintings to the new Esther D. Nixon Library.

The large, colorful painting inspired by quilting fabrics will be installed later this month in the children’s section of the library.

Library manager Kathy Sey-mour said that the painting, which measures six feet by six feet and will fill an entire wall, “will really add a lot of color to the children’s area.”

McGrath, whose stylistically diverse works are in many private and corporate collections, said that she began thinking about creating a work for the new library several years ago when she first heard about plans to build it. Knowing that a large building was planned, she conceived of a canvas of compatible scale.

“I wanted to paint big for a big wall,” she said.

One day strolling through a local flea market, McGrath’s eyes fell on a pile of quilts. The disarray of patterns struck her as the perfect subject matter for an arresting composition.

She calls the painting “Controlled Chaos.” She decided that the lively, abstract design, “free from any religious or political overtones” – something that shows up in McGrath’s work – would be fitting for a public art collection. The painting, which now belongs to the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), will hang indefinitely in the Jacksonville library, but it may be circulated among other branch libraries eventually.

“We like the idea of branches pulling from local artists. It reinforces the idea of a library being a community resource and a place for people to gather,” said Colin Thompson, the art administrator for CALS. “We are all very happy she is donating this painting to the library.”

McGrath has been painting since her childhood in Newfoundland, on the Atlantic coast of Canada. Largely self-taught, she enjoys experimenting with diverse styles and techniques from sharp realism to soft abstraction.

Her preferred medium is oils. Subject matter includes still life, portrait, landscape and non-representational shapes and patterns. Her work reflects artistic genres from the Renaissance to Impressionism to the contemporary. She has won numerous awards.

For McGrath, the construction of the new library is an element in her vision for Jacksonville to someday become a regional nexus for the arts.

She would like to see a center for the arts erected in Jacksonville that would house a performance hall, schools for music and art, and shops, cafes, and galleries to support the center and stimulate the local economy.

“The library is central as a hub for arts and culture in Jacksonville,” McGrath said. “It even looks like a museum. It is important to build on that. One of the things that will really enhance Jacksonville’s image is to create an atmosphere of arts and culture. You’ve got a lot of talent in Jacksonville, but no outlet.”

McGrath’s work can be viewed on her Web site, www.rbmcgrathfineart.com.