Renato Muccillo: Heavy, brooding skies hung low over the Grant Narrows, a corner of the agricultural Fraser Valley some 25 miles east-northeast of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. Storm clouds wreathed the nearby hills in wisps of white. Winds whipped the air. Yet, remarkably, the irrigation channels that crisscross the land and provide sanctuary to sandhill cranes and blue herons remained tranquil, sheltered by the tall earthen dike walls that control the waters of the nearby Pitt and Alouette rivers.
It was a morning in early autumn a year ago, and, as usual, Renato Muccillo was out strolling in the area. With him was his “studio buddy for the last eight years,” his greyhound, Ajax. “He likes to peel around on the dikes,” Muccillo says. “So he’s one of the driving factors for me to get out there.”
Suddenly, Muccillo was struck by the feeling that he was “the only person on the planet.” The saturated natural palette all around him—the gold of native grasses, the blues and grays of sky and water, the greens of the hillsides and of the algae that fringed the water—deepened his sense of glorious isolation. He took out his BlackBerry and snapped numerous random reference shots in what he calls “an exercise in memorization, to capture the mood and sense of place.”
Then, back in his 300-square-foot studio—which adjoins the Craftsman-style cedar home he built himself in the nearby town of Maple Ridge—he began to transform those impressions into a painting he eventually entitled SANCTUARY. Downloading the photos to his laptop, he combined “bits of this, bits of that,” until he achieved a concept that captured not so much the physical reality of what he had seen as the emotional impact it had on him.
That done, he began to paint directly on a 36-by-36-inch canvas of double-oil-primed linen, without so much as the barest sketch to block out the work beforehand. “As soon as pencil or charcoal goes down,” he says, “I feel it’s very restrictive. I lose the painting’s fluidity.”