Kevin McKay

Towers & Spires:

Vaucluse Paintings

1 - 30 November 2021

May Space Online


Three Steeples - Newcastle St Rose Bay, 2021

Oil on canvas 37.5 x 50 cm - $1600

“This series explores Sydney’s South Head peninsula, where a cliffside lighthouse, signal station and sandstone church stand as landmarks in space and time.  With histories dating back to the earliest days of colonisation, this site is dedicated to maritime navigation and communication. Semaphore signals would alert the city to new arrivals and warn if a ship was carrying infectious disease on board.  The virtuous qualities of beacons and the stoic form of stone structures, assume obvious metaphoric connotations. I am looking to place these in a surrounding residential context, to juxtapose the domestic and contemporary with the historical and heroic, as our homes have become our bastions in recent times. Plein-air studies inform my studio paintings, which are rooted in the particularities of place, but I am always hoping the engagement of light on architectural form within atmospheric space might also allude to the metaphysical.”

- Kevin McKay 2021

“A conjunction of church spires catches my eye on the drive down Old South Head Rd.  The church on the corner is now a childcare centre. The sacred is countered further by a pedestrian island that dominates the foreground where street lights and a pole sprouting signs now show us the way.”

The Avenue Dentist - Rose Bay, 2021

Oil on board 30.5 x 40.5 cm - $1300

“A high density apartment rises above a modest leafy home that is utilised now as a business. A sense of place remains though, bonding both like an island within an urban sea.  Incidental conjunctions of 'road furniture' provide more localised focal points within the ennui of the urban commute.”   

Vacant shop - Rose Bay, 2021

Oil on board 27.5 x 36 cm - $1200

“ A corner shop provides a common landmark in a residential patchwork.  Its vacancy, however, renders it as a relic to a recent past. A leaning power pole frames an ambiguous central space that serves as the still point in this busy composition.” 


Green Window - Macquarie Lighthouse, 2021

Oil on canvas 52.5 x 70 cm - sold

“The residential demands of the city have encroached on the oldest lighthouse in Australia with town houses replacing the keepers cottage on the south side.  I looked for rhythm and order in this contest between the historic and the contemporary, the grand and the everyday.” 


Back yard view - Macquarie Lighthouse, 2021

Oil on canvas 50 x 37.5 cm - sold

“A line of pot plants against a picket fence presents a domestic view of this historical site while a glimpse of the ocean horizon alludes to a world beyond.” 

“The oldest lighthouse in Australia stands as a relic to an colonial past and like all lighthouses provides a symbol for virtuous qualities like truth, stoicism and hope.  Against the brilliance of the sun, however the lighthouse is reduced to a silhouette and I am relegated to its shadow. I liked the way the bluish tones of the sky and the warmer earth tones are reflected in the whitewashed walls and even in the clouds.  When we see one colour we are psychologically inclined to see its opposite.  It would be nice if this exchange between complimentary opposites could correlate with an ability to recognise the “other” in any situation.”


Lighthouse shadow 2021

Oil on canvas 52.5 x 70 cm - $2600

Cliffside- Macquarie Lighthouse 2021

Oil on canvas 45 x 60 cm - $2000

“This work places the Macquarie Lighthouse in its working context as a beacon in the interface between land and sea.  The awesome grandeur of nature diminishes the scale of this noble tower, illuminated by late light, while its form finds a distant echo in a less celebrated column - the Bondi Sewer Vent which facilitates the discharge of effluent back into the sea that first delivered Sydney's colonial founders. The cliffside railing leads us safely away from the perils below, paralleling the canvas frame, before leading us into the illusionary space beyond the surface.”


Macquarie Lighthouse study 2021

Oil on paper 20 x 28.5 cm - sold

“Geometric considerations involving a horizontal bifurcation and golden section underpin this study painted in late afternoon light in the Lighthouse Reserve Park.”


Mast down - South Head Signal Station, 2021

Oil on canvas 50 x 75 cm - $2500

“The Signal Station on Sydney’s South Head Peninsula has hosted a beacon since the earliest years of settlement.  A radar mast replaces the prostrate Semaphore mast once used to convey messages about incoming ships, including the presence of infectious disease. I chose the view that makes the keepers cottages more prominent, including the Hills Hoist clothesline, as the home is our bastion during times of crisis.”


“Soon after the Union Jack was hoisted at Sydney Cove a flagstaff was erected here to serve as a beacon for the Second Fleet. An observation tower was built in 1838, followed by the Keepers Cottage. Today, a radar mast replaces the Semaphore flag, while a parked car alludes to the service of a Coast Guard volunteer who continues an enduring service of vigilance. I like the way it echoed the eternal blue of the sky.”


Blue car - South Head Signal Station, 2021

Oil on canvas 60 x 52.5 cm - $2250

Myall Ave corner - Vaucluse, 2021

Oil on board 27.5 x 36 cm - $1200

“The nautical form of a lighthouse tower appears to be incorporated in an Art Deco house opposite the Signal Station, which boasts a harbour view complete with Sydney’s iconic bridge and Opera House, and all beneath the shifting structures of the clouds above.”


St Peters - Watsons Bay, 2021

Oil on canvas 45 x 60 cm - $2000

“This modest church was built in 1865 on a rock above a fishing village and is named after the patron saint of shipbuilders and fishermen.  It stands as a landmark in space and time with a commanding view of the harbour.  I enjoyed sitting where Roland Wakelin painted it almost 70 years ago. watching the fleeting changes in light and the repeating passage of the Mosman ferry that marks the passing of the day.  There was a contemplative aspect in this flux and in seeing my act of painting as part of that history.”


Witches hat - St Peters Watsons Bay, 2021

Oil on canvas 40 x 50 cm - $1750

“This painting followed a plein air session threatened by storm clouds.  The atmospheric drama above the stillness of this stone church pitted the human effort to approach the unknowable with a daily manifestation of the sublime.  I tried to contrast the way I painted the built form with the expressive sky. The magic of light and shadow seemed to connect both with a complimentary effect .  The incidental witches hat interrupted the ‘Romantic’ and found a correspondence in an ordinary tiled roof in the background.”


St Peters study I, 2021

Oil on paper 20 x 28.5 cm - $850

“ This plein air study was painted under dramatic skies. “


St Peters study Ii, 2021

Oil on paper 20 x 28.5 cm - $850

“ Grey clouds presented an opportunity to make a plein air study in quieter nuanced tones.”


Bell St corner - Watsons Bay, 2021

Oil on canvas 50 x 50 cm - sold

“A white house dominates a corner of the Old South Head Road as it sweeps down to Watsons Bay. Shifting tones in the shadows modulates its brutalist geometries. A random collection of street furniture finds its own geometric order oblivious to the postcard a view of Sydney’s harbour and iconic bridge. The prominent garage and parked car alludes to the daily transit that links residents to this fixed point in the busy city.”


25 Military Rd - Watsons Bay, 2021

Oil on board 27.5 x 36 cm - $1200

“Time periods collide in one residential view.  A stone house references colonial times, a humble weatherboard cottage reflects a working class period, while a Besser block wall and parked car provide more contemporary markers. A trace of the natural environment that still clings to the coastline is glimpsed at the rear.  I also liked the formal relationships, between the complementaries red and green.”


Obelisk- Watsons Bay 2021

Oil on canvas 40 x 60 cm - $1900

“This obelisk was posted by Gov Macquarie to mark the completion of the “South Head Rd” in 1811.  It seemed appropriate to acknowledge this historical artery to the South Head Peninsula which also served as the conduit for the landmarks in this series. Dunbar House stands behind the obelisk.  I liked the surreal collage effect of a parked car, poking out behind the Moreton Bay Fig Tree.  The picnic table reflects the continuing attraction of this Harbourside location as a place of recreation. The obelisk inscription reads: ‘This Road made By Subscription Was compleated in ten Weeks from the 25 of march 1811 By 21 Soldiers of His Majesty's 73 Reghiment.’ (Sic)”


Hornby Lighthouse study, 2021

Oil on paper 20 x 28.5 cm - $850

“This distinctively striped lighthouse was erected at the South Headland to help guide ships to the harbour entrance after the Dunbar ran aground at The Gap in 1857 with the loss of 121 lives. The sole survivor of that disaster,  Henry Johnson, was appointed as its first Lighthouse Keeper.  The verticality of the Lighthouse is countered by the long horizontal reach of the North Headland on the other side of the harbour.“ 

Keepers Cottage - Hornby Lighthouse study, 2021

Oil on paper 20 x 28.5 cm - $850

“This plein air study of one of the Hornby Lighthouse cottages at Sydney’s South Head was painted under threatening skies and captures the sail of a passing boat returning in haste to the safety of the harbour.”

Camp Cove jetty, 2021

Oil on board 27.5 x 36 cm - $1200

“This little beach, just inside the South Head Peninsula, is where the First Fleet camped before reaching Sydney Cove.  It now provides priceless water views for the fortunate few who live here and the day-trippers, like myself, who get the view for free.  The tiny weather board structure at the end of the jetty seems to represent the individual against the masses in the city across the harbour.”


St Michael’s - Vaucluse, 2021

Oil on canvas 40 x 50 cm - $1750

“This Anglican church began as modest chapel designed by Edmund Blacket, whose little country churches are ubiquitous throughout NSW.  Its stoic form, grand steeple, and proud flag reflect colonial aesthetics in a view that could belong to the “motherland”.  The picturesque is countered by graphic road markings, signage and power poles.   Despite their seemingly careless placement the latter echo the form of the steeple's crucifix.”   


Strickland House study, 2021

Oil on paper 20 x 28.5 cm - $850

“The classical lines of a grand historical house frame a harbour view of the city. I painted this in summer afternoon light where the warm tones of the building trimmings and surrounding terracotta tiles provided relief to the dominant blues and greens.