Kevin Maddrey is the definition of a traveling artist. He is a painter who travels, although sometimes he can’t decide whether he travels to paint or paints to travel.
He didn’t start out this way. He stayed in one place for 18 years, growing up in Columbia, Maryland, then spent four more years at the University of Maryland in Baltimore studying digital animation. Like many of the split-second, off-the-wall decisions we make in our lives, his decision to take a painting class just before graduation really changed his life. He turned in the direction of painting.
Right after graduation, Maddrey made a beeline for the Yosemite Valley, where he taught himself open air painting. He also did some climbing, but that seems incidental to the obsession that was taking root within him.
For a decade of summers, he waited tables in the morning at the Tuolumne Lodge and painted all afternoon.
“I have to paint,” he said, sitting at a table in the Mono Inn where he was preparing to hang his paintings on the walls. “It’s that simple, I guess.”
Beyond Yosemite, he has traveled to India, Hawaii, North Carolina — painting. When he arrives somewhere, he grabs his sketchbook and wanders around with an open mind until something resonates — a cloud perhaps, or a mountain range disappearing into the horizon, or a rushing river — and he starts painting.
“I’m a prolific and fast painter,” he said. To hear him describe his style, the visual of him applying paint to a page in his sketchbook makes one think of a squirrel busying with a pinecone.
At 39, Maddrey is largely self-taught, a term he considers limiting. “I’m not really self-taught; I learn from everyone…a watercolor artist in the East, an Indian Tangkha artist who paints on silk, or all the artists in the National Gallery of Art, where he is a copyist. The designation allows him to set up his easel in the hushed galleries and copy the works of Vermeer and Turner, the Impressionists and Pollack. It’s learning by doing, the valuable school of experience.
Maddrey could be considered an art explorer. “Every medium teaches me — watercolor, oil, pastel, graphite, monotype and sculpture.”
He also has an eye for movement and motion, which are plentiful in the great outdoors, where he is most at home. The outdoorsman is camping in Yosemite and wandering along the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River, where the waters gush and spit and curl in irresistible patterns.
Maddrey loves water, and paints it in its many guises —rivers, oceans, lakes.
And clouds. His clouds float and move and morph across the canvas.
When he was in Hawaii, the kaiwe trees of the big island captured his attention of his paintbrush. The gnarly trees twist and braid their trunks up high to where the leaves are. They boast nasty thorns. According to Maddrey, the trees were brought to Hawaii by a Catholic priest, who planted them on the beaches to keep the barefoot natives away. Evidently, swimming and surfing were not on the priest’s list of acceptable things to do.
On Maddrey’s list of things to go and places to go? Write and illustrate another kids’ book (his first is called “A is for Asheville), and head to the East Coast and Europe for more painting trips.
Maddrey’s watercolors are now being exhibited at the Mono Inn. See a preview of Maddrey’s work at maddrey.net. For information and/or dinner reservations, call 760.647.6581.