John Mac Kah – Deep Respect for Process and Materials of the Old World Masters

JMKah-AtWorkWBorn in 1952, John is a rare native Floridian. He graduated from Ringling School of Art & Design in Sarasota and has taught and painted from his studio since 1982. He moved to the mountains in 1996 and has never looked back.

John offers Fine Art instruction in his working studio, on location and at schools nationwide. Inspired by past masters in landscape from America and Europe, he builds his work on a deep respect and understanding of processes and materials. “These very earthy tools: wood, hair, canvas, linen, natural oils, varnish, pigments-all connect me to the work and the work to Nature and the Wild. Taking time out to closely observe and see our world as unique, complex and vibrant is as important to me as the act of painting on location. A working studio, my space functions as workshop, laboratory, classroom and creative retreat from travels. “

Although John has a degree in art from the Ringling School in Sarasota, he considers himself self-trained because his interest was in realism while the courses at Ringling were more about the abstract approach during the years he studied there. John had been fascinated with realism from a very young age. He spent lots of time creating drawings and paintings of nature from books, with a particular interest in animals. He learned by reading, observing the works of others that he admired and by copying.

He was exposed to art and photography by his father and is aware of how photography and fine art have cross-pollinated. In the early 1800’s, photographers attempted to bring a painterly quality to their work and at the same time, viewing photographs incited a new way of seeing that also affected fine art paintings.

Heavily influenced by the Barbizon Painters and the way they captured nature realistically, John loves to paint en plein air and is committed to accurately capturing the beauty of nature. He often returns to a site 2 – 4 times in order to complete a painting. For more information about the Barbizon painters, this article provides a nice overview.

What’s on his palette?
Umbers, ochres, siennas, and a warm and cool of each of the primaries. He may use three blues; cerulean, ultramarine and cobalt.

John is committed to understanding and teaching old world methods, including grinding colors, making mediums and understanding the qualities and properties of all the materials of fine oil painting. He uses old world recipes but also has developed such a fine understanding of the materials, both traditional and modern, that he is able to combine the best of both for a great outcome in his work. One example is goosing up Golden Acrylic Gesso with marble dust in order to create a better substrate. He and his students prepare oil-varnish mediums, their own panels and canvas and to fuse oil and acrylics for some special effects. The intent is to take advantage of oils longevity and luminosity.

“Some people have asked me if oils are toxic. All paints can have components that can be harmful. I teach good practice in use of traditional materials all derived from nature…sourced from wood, earth, plants and animals. Safe handling is common sense. We recycle and dispose of waste materials with respect for the environment. And when we paint on site, we don’t leave trash or trespass.”

He also appears to have many interests and quite a good sense of humor. It seems, he’s also not enthralled with email or computers and it’s best to reach him by phone. I only had a wee bit of time to talk to him because artists in WNC are super busy at this time of year, so I took his advice and used google to find all I could about him and pieced this together. Most of it was quite predictable but I did find one little site that revealed some of the personality behind the public profile. He shares this on his facebook “about me” page:
“Studio complete with, smell of linseed oil and turpentine, paint brush collection, miniature tools, Dinosauria Maguette Exhibit, fossils, 4 plastic skulls & other old bones, talking hat rack, owl wings, stuffed iguana, 1 resident rubber bat, curiosa, geraniums, pots of glue, cobwebs with resident spiders, bottles (mostly empty), books and old mss, debris, oddments & marginalia. SEEE The Amazing Peanut Zoo!!! Dean Martin memorial record collection. Curiosa Cabinet changes weekly, maybe. Ghost of MSTR Frank N. Stein and Sam Clemens, Natural History Museum or Plato’s Cave? Steam more, punk less. Lord Greystokes Library. Travelling Circus. Open by invitation, serendipity, or banishment. Occasionally ticketed events. Opinions opined. Laughter encourage. Lots of silly hats…
You can never have too many paint brushes…or rubber dinosaurs.”

And now, I have a lot more questions than answers and I am glad he will be our featured artist this week! I hope you will join us Tuesday morning, June 21st, at Charles D. Owen Park. John’s demo will begin at 9:30 AM.

John maintains a busy weekly schedule of studio classes in all levels from drawing to still life, and weekend workshops. Saturday is plein-air day and open to all levels.
To view Kah’s paintings, drop by The Grand Bohemian Gallery, 11 Boston Way in Biltmore Village, or visit For a complete class schedule and portfolio, visit
John Mac Kah
Cotton Mill Studios, River Arts District Asheville
122 Riverside Dr., 28804
828 225-5000,