Subject Matter By Default – The Art of Stephen May

Category: arts 411
Backyard Sticky Snow, oil on board, 24 x 24 in.
Backyard Sticky Snow, oil on board, 24 x 24 in.

“There’s something in the relationship between being and looking and doing, that can turn into something really special,” said Fredericton artist, Stephen May.  “I keep aiming for that special thing by being and looking and doing and every once in a while it works out.”

Born in Quebec, May has called Fredericton home for over three decades.  Here he has lived, worked, raised his daughters and built his reputation here, as one of the province’s premier painters.  His work is included among some of New Brunswick’s most cherished collections including The Owens Art Gallery at MAU in Sackville, The New Brunswick Museum in Saint John and at home in Fredericton as part of The Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

Following an artistic path that first began with an exploration of photography, May quickly turned to painting and went on to earn a Fine Arts degree from Mount Allison University.  He credits his early experience in Sackville for shaping his direction, his passion and his muse.

“I had what I call my epiphany moment in my last year of university,” said May, “and ever since then, if I look at a painting I did back then and say a, painting I did ten years after that, and ten years after that, and all the way up to a recent painting of mine, I can see that there are changes going on but I’ve basically been driven by the same thing.  I try to hold on to what I felt was good about my paintings back then.”

Motivated by his surroundings, his backyard, the view from his studio window or even his own reflection in a mirror, May’s work captures the everyday and encapsulates a sense of life, existence and experience.  In his own words, he paints, “subject matter by default.”

“Subject matter tends to be stuff that’s around,” he said.  “It could be stuff in my studio or just the view out my window.  Every once in a while I’ll get in the car and go somewhere just to change things up, but most of the time I’m happy painting in my house or my studio.”

“If it doesn’t matter what it is, then I don’t have to go too far out of my way searching for it,” he said.  “Whatever good that’s going to come isn’t going to happen because I’m over here instead of over there, or looking at this instead of looking at that.”

Discovering the connection between a work of art and its audience remains a fascination to May, both as an artist and a spectator.  Despite his many accomplishments, he remains in constant pursuit of understanding what is it that draws the viewer in and what makes a work of art continue to deliver an experience.

“I’ve spent an awful lot of time trying to figure it out,” he said.  “When I first started looking at art, I was thrilled by what I saw and by what other people did.  That thrill is still there.  When it happens, whether the paintings are mine or someone else’s, I can get as close to them as I want and they don’t get old or tired or run out.  They just keep getting better and better and giving back somehow. That’s my aim.”

Stephen May’s current collection, One Year, is now on display at Gallery 78, 796 Queen Street, Fredericton.
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