Painter William McCarthy has seen the world but still notices beauty in Hamden

Local Art Corner: Week of Feb. 1, 2021

Emily DiSalvo, Arts and Life Editor

Hamden resident and landscape painter William McCarthy began his career in the 1990s when he was working as a gallery supervisor at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He spotted a painting of an abandoned landscape that emotionally struck him.

“From that epiphany, I have been creating landscapes ever since,” McCarthy said. “I refer to them as atmospheric landscapes because I am not trying to capture the most perfect crashing wave or the most perfect country road scene or the intersection of two streets. Just a sense of place and atmosphere.”

McCarthy creates his work from memory and his imagination using light, color and selection of composition. As he was working at Wesleyan, painting “took over his life.”

Contributed by William McCarthy

“Eventually in early 2008, I took an early retirement from Wesleyan so I could just paint,” McCarthy said. “(Painting is) all I do now. Everything is because of painting.”

A fellow painter asked him to teach a class, which eventually evolved into a teaching workshop in Italy that takes place several times a year. Painting led McCarthy to become a teacher, giving him an opportunity to share his gift.

“You learn a lot about yourself once you start teaching,” McCarthy said. “You learn not only how to visualize your work but put words to what I am trying to do.”

Most of his work is done on canvas, but he also uses treated paper, linen and plexiglass of all sizes — his largest being about four to six feet high.

This inspiration for McCarthy’s work starts with a thumbnail-sized sketch of an image he has imagined or seen in the past. When he gets an idea, he sketches it in a moleskine notebook that he always carries in his pocket.

“I fill up a whole book of these little sketches and those really help me to guide me along to what I am doing with the landscape,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy works out of his home in the Hamden suburbs. Throughout February, his work will be displayed in the Miller Library in Hamden, where his wife works.

“The paintings are going to be inside the library on the glass windows there,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy’s work is also displayed and sold at galleries in Connecticut, the Boston area and Florida.

Screenshot from YouTube

“You never get to meet the person who buys the painting,” McCarthy said. “You never get to have the conversation about how you did the work so it’s kind of like a vacuum or a void. I have sold hundreds and hundreds of paintings through galleries and I have no idea where they are.”

Certain areas of Hamden have inspired McCarthy’s work, including Sleeping Giant State Park, right across from Quinnipiac University’s Mount Carmel campus.

“It’s this historic area but also the relationship between the shape of the land and one’s self,” McCarthy said. “The fact that it is this massive structure that goes up so quickly and is so dominating, but is also a part of something else.”

But if you saw McCarthy paint Sleeping Giant, it might not look exactly as you remember it. The secret to McCarthy’s abstract paintings is to “see what you want to see in it” rather than giving the viewer all of the details of the scene.

“I am not being so descriptive that it is stagnant,” McCarthy said. “There is a lot of room for interpretation.”