Barbara McIlrath works in the dramatic landscape of the Driftless Region of western Wisconsin, near Lake Pepin, where the seasonal changes in the sky, land, and water constantly inspire her devotion to perceiving the world more deeply through painting and drawing.
Growing up just outside of Chicago, she earned her BA degree in Humanities at Illinois Wesleyan University, MS degree at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, and BFA degree at Minneapolis College of Art & Design, where she received the Vanderlip Award at graduation. She has worked as a graphic designer, illustrator, instructional designer for Mayo Clinic, corporate training consultant and faculty member at Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Every week, she makes a new journey down the Mississippi River from her home in the city of St. Paul, Minnesota to her farm/studio near Pepin, Wisconsin. Most of her paintings and drawings explore two particular places near Lake Pepin.
Frontenac, the state park and Florence Township Beach, in the village of Old Frontenac on the Minnesota side of Lake Pepin
Hicks Valley, the particular area of farmland around the McIlrath farm in Pepin Township, near the Chippewa River on the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin.
“My work begins in direct observation of each place in time, interpreting through a modernist eye, which challenges me to experiment with the painter’s language of landscape: form, color, composition and surface texture. The resulting work can range from recognizable images of sky, land and water to completely abstract compositions, discovered in the process of simplifying, improvising and questioning what I am seeing. My tackle box holds a wide variety of materials, offering different tools for quick studies i.e., color swatches, thumbnail sketches, tiny paintings and collages - all intended as maps for larger abstract work. These immediate, fresh, uninhibited studies can be my favorite pieces, so I’m including a selection of them here.”
— Barbara Mcilrath