Jonathan McPhillips

Cape Cod Art  /  ART Annual 2021 /

Writer: Chris White

Heading to Town • 12″ x 24″ • oil

Route 6A is in many respects Cape Cod’s version of northern California’s 101—the scenic highway along the coast—and Jonathan McPhillips’ painting, “Heading Into Town,” perfectly captures the road’s conclusion in a way that tells the story of anyone who has ever returned to the Cape with an aching in their heart, to paraphrase Led Zeppelin. The point of view seems to be that of a car driver approaching the terminus of 6A on a hazy morning, with the sun approaching its apex and shimmering on the road, upon the water of Provincetown Harbor, the red roof of a white house turned pink in the pre-noon light, and up ahead, the trunk and roof of an old jalopy, its taillights still on for safety. The gauze from a dissipating fog enshrouds the sun, causing it to glow in a celebratory way that seems to reflect the feelings of the driver—perhaps returning home, or maybe making their way to a family vacation, or even just arriving for a day trip to Race Point. In 2021, this hopeful feeling is welcome, and the optimism and joy of “Heading Into Town” seems like an allegory for people who are beginning to feel the stirrings of summer and the lifting of COVID’s pall.

Jonathan McPhillips knows those summer stirrings well. When he was a child, his family vacationed on the Mid and Outer Cape, and his connection with the area shines through in his works. He recalls, “It was a big deal for the family to save for that one-week vacation treat. The fond memories of those childhood vacations are without question part of my determination and privilege to paint the beauty of Cape Cod as an adult.” 

The Light of Dusk • 30″ x 30″ • oil

McPhillips lives in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, with his wife Janie, and daughters Bridget and Mary. “They are my best inspirations!” he says. “Either with them or on my own, I frequent Cape Cod as often as possible. The Cape is such a great place for me to paint, and for all of us to enjoy.” 

Of particular artistic interest to McPhillips are seasonal changes. “I think visitors and residents share the varying beauty and emotions. From a visual perspective, I am fascinated by the remnants of winter. Broken docks, loose moorings, and missing wood shingles are almost an expectation, with life on the Cape requiring a significant upkeep every spring. This year, as with others, I will look for those differences in my favorite painting spots.” His painting “Seasonal Repairs,” depicts rosa rugosa growing wild before a broken barn door as sailboats glide across a bay on the other side of a marsh, and it carries the feeling of a seaside community in May, just awakening to warmer days.

McPhillips regularly revisits favorite harbors, exploring for fresh viewpoints. He explains, “A minor change in weather or time of day can make a big difference. ‘Quiet Harbor,’ at Addison Art Gallery, is a recent nocturne of Wellfleet Harbor. It was from a new vantage point for me, and included elements I didn’t include in the past. The harbormaster building takes precedent, while the commercial pier is more subtle in its placement. I look forward to the challenge of finding new energy in familiar places.”

Seasonal Repairs • 16″ x 20″ • oil

To learn more about Jonathan McPhillips and his approaches to paintings, please visit Addison Art Gallery in Orleans or check out his videos on their website. In conclusion, he says, “I would just like to say it is an honor and a pleasure to talk a bit about my paintings, and I look forward to more in-person gatherings and painting adventures on Cape Cod in 2021!”

See more of Jonathan McPhillips’ work at Addison Art Gallery, Orleans and at addisonart.com.

Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.