Art Annual 2023

Artist Profile: Neil McAuliffe

Cape Cod Art  /  ART Annual 2023 /

Writer: Valerie Gates

North Wharf Nantucket • oil on canvas • 30″ x 40″

Oil painter Neil McAuliffe was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and moved to Hyannis in ‘68 when he was four years old. Growing up surrounded by the natural beauty of the Cape influenced McAuliffe’s desire to capture the bucolic scenes on paper.

A graduate of Barnstable High School, McAuliffe moved to Boston to study illustration at Massachusetts College of Art. Between classes, he would often walk over to the Boston Museum of Fine Art to sketch the paintings. Ironically, “I failed my only painting class I took there… that is really cool because I am not failing now!” McAuliffe laughs. “I found that art school is not really about what you learn, it is about the experience.”

McAuliffe returned to Cape Cod after art school and found work as a freelance illustrator, commissioned by private clients to create pen and ink and watercolor renderings of their homes and boats. During those early years, he was also commissioned to paint a series of aerial views of Augusta National Golf Course, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Harvard University and the villages of Hyannisport and Osterville.

McAuliffe’s mother was living in Jamaica at the time, so when he met and married his wife, the couple decided to move to warmer climes and “started bopping around, doing the island thing.” He spent a few years living and painting in the Caribbean, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Key West where he received commissions to create artwork for companies including Sandals Resorts and Jablum Blue Mountain Coffee Co. The Cape though, still had his heart, so the couple decided to move back to settle down and raise their two children. 

In Centerville, McAuliffe built a studio space where he could work surrounded by nature. Large windows and sliding doors flow out to a beautiful hidden garden with three fish ponds. Paintings are everywhere and the studio is decorated with plants and exotic mementos from the couple’s travels. His two identical indoor white cats lounge in the sun. In between painting sessions, he loves to feed the bunnies, chipmunks, and watch the birds just outside his doors.

Ptown Panorama • oil on canvas • 24″ x 48″
Boardwalk • oil on canvas • 24″ x 48″

“Bouncing from one painting to another with the music,” is how McAuliffe likes to work. He usually has many paintings around the studio in various states of finish and he jumps from one to another adding a line here and a splash of color there. Rather than en plein air painting, McAuliffe’s artistic process is to take photographs of his chosen scene and then use the photos as the basis for his paintings back in his studio. 

McAuliffe works exclusively in oils now and his style leans towards realistic with great attention to details in each scene. Often called a Cape Cod realist painter, he explains that, “My style is realistic, but my intent is not photo realism.” McAuliffe’s paintings are carried in Chatham Fine Art and Sarah Jessica Fine Arts in Provincetown, and at Chapman Art Gallery in Cotuit. Online, J. Todd Galleries carries a collection of his paintings, and his work is also shown at the Sheldon Fine Art Gallery in Newport, Rhode Island. “My mom and her whole family grew up in Newport so as a very small child, we would travel to Newport for all the holidays. I didn’t realize I was going to be painting there, but I kept aware of where things were. I really enjoy going to Newport and painting there too,” he muses.

With the arrival of the picture-perfect summer season comes McAuliffe’s busy time, photographing new scenes to paint and working on commissions from his loyal clientele.  

McAuliffe’s work can be found at Sarah Jessica Fine Arts in Provincetown, Chapman Art Gallery on Main Street in Cotuit, and online at