By Bob Bahr
A plein air painter and wildlife artist with a wide effect on painters in the Grand Teton area is the focus of a new book by Susan Hallsten McGarry titled Gregory I. McHuron: Plein Air Master and Mentor. In it, McGarry explores how McHuron integrated animals into his plein air landscapes, and how he mentored artists in Wyoming.
McHuron painted on location, and he often painted in a large format—on canvases up to 70″ wide. His plein air landscapes bristle with life and detail. But, McGarry asserts, he considered himself a wildlife artist first.
“McHuron would usually develop a plein air landscape with an animal in mind,” she says. “He was a hunter and lived in rugged areas, and he grew up with a dad who was a geologist. Animals had always been a huge part of his art. Bob Kuhn was an early inspiration, and he developed some interesting techniques for putting an animal into a landscape that he had already created. And all those landscapes were done en plein air.”
He composed the landscape on the spot, moving elements around to fit his vision. But one thing he would not change is the look of the Grand Tetons, the iconic mountains in his stomping ground. “He said you had to be totally faithful to the profiles of the mountains, but you could move it around and shift it to make a compelling composition,” says McGarry. “Nature doesn’t always compose perfectly. The foreground, sky, and general composition were up for grabs. But the Tetons were inviolate. You captured those profiles as they were.”
On the other hand, the animals featured in his paintings were not portraits. They were actors in a narrative that McHuron wished to tell. “The animals in his paintings are generally small—the landscape is dominant in the composition,” says the author. “His goal was to tell a story. The animal didn’t just show up there—it came from somewhere and it was going somewhere, and it was caught in that moment by McHuron.”
This blend of studio painting and plein air work on the same canvas made McHuron somewhat unique. For that matter, McGarry says that no one who knew him would doubt his uniqueness. “He was a great quote,” says McGarry. “He was quoted endlessly in local, regional, and national press, and many of his quotes were quite profound.” And he believed that every painter had something special to say through his or her art. One artist, Robert Hagberg, is quoted in the book regarding advice McHuron gave him. “Greg pointed out areas where the painting could stand some improvement. Then he told me to read everything, study everything, absorb it all … and then throw it out and paint from the heart. He said that the world doesn’t need any more wannabes … the world needs you.”
McGarry’s book Gregory I. McHuron: Plein Air Master and Mentor, is available here. Ω