Alex McKenna was born in North County Dublin but has taken the rural life of the West of Ireland as his main theme. McKenna’s paintings are always based on his own experiences and his work reflect man’s relationship with nature, whether it is in harmony or in conflict. McKenna has a deep love of land, sea and wilderness, and in particular, the labour of men on land and at sea. This personal affiliation may be due to his family background and heredity. McKenna’s grandfather and great-grandfather were both boatsmen; McKenna himself worked on boats and also worked farming the land – digging potatoes, making hay and cutting turf. It is boat and land labourers like himself that are featured in many of his landscapes.
McKenna’s works can be described as Impressionistic and indeed the artist himself names the French Impressionists as his main influence and above all Camille Pissarro. He is also inspired by the Irish artist Paul Henry and his views of the West of Ireland, which McKenna vividly recalls seeing in the G.N.R posters which adorned Irish railway stations during the 1950’s. The gentle brush strokes and lively composition demonstrated by Irish artist Maurice MacGonigal has also been assimilated into McKenna’s works.
These influences combined with McKenna’s love for the rural West and his experience as a labourer on both land and sea help to create captivating landscapes bathed in light; a light which diffuses the canvas through his use of impressionistic brush strokes and golden tones, which contrast dramatically with the reds and blues that also dominate his palette. In his works, the figures are often as important as the landscape and he gives each figure an individual personality through a certain stance or gesture.
Taking the island life of Achill as one of his main theme, McKenna has gone beyond Henry in portraying the world of this unique part of the West of Ireland. A true original, McKenna paints the boatmen with their sneakers and their baseball caps. . All the time he keeps in mind the idylic life of time.