Painting Outside the Lines
By Justine Murphy
Renowned painter Colin Callahan has an eye for nature and the world, and that vision drew him away from a once-steady job in business.
“This is what I love,” he said. “I’ve just always enjoyed painting.”
The Concord-based artist’s work has been showcased throughout New England and New York, including at the Hot Air Painters at Elmira College, the Hopkinton Historical Society, the Millbrook Gallery, Anderson Soule Gallery and the Kimball Jenkins Estate.
His art career began many years ago in Rome. His family, which included professor parents, traveled there annually when his father was on sabbatical. At one point in high school, he stayed behind with relatives in the city that is rich with history, particularly in the arts.
“I was always interested in art history,” Callahan said. “It’s my passion.”
While overseas, he graduated from the Overseas School of Rome, then studied painting at Rome’s Centro Barbieri before obtaining a B.A. in art history from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Callahan veered from this discipline after college, however, when he opted to move to New York City for a job as a research and securities analyst for a firm on Wall Street.
“It was a secure job, a steady job,” he said. “But I decided… well, realized… that it wasn’t my passion.”
He left two years later to begin teaching (and now directing) art history at St. Paul’s School in Concord. He’s been there ever since and marks 38 years this year at the prestigious private school. It’s one of the most fulfilling aspects of his life, he said, as he’s been lucky to work with “very talented groups of kids.”
He’s seen a lot of change during that time – students in more recent years seem to take fewer risks with their work; they’re more conservative.
“I always say, ‘you need to get out of your comfort zones,’” Callahan said. “It’s so important to explore.”
That’s exactly what he has done throughout his life, going from a “stable and secure” job in business to a career as a painter.
He most enjoys outdoor painting and has done so at various venues. Today, Callahan has an outdoor home studio; a peaceful place that allows him to fully immerse himself in his craft.
“I can close myself into my studio. I put on some opera music and just paint,” he said. “I just love it.”
His repertoire includes many outdoor scenes depicting landscapes as well as still lifes and seasonal views such as gardens and the sea. Among those seaside scenes is a lobster, which is currently on display at Concord’s Sullivan Fine Art Gallery (and is the cover art for Fiddlehead this month). This was inspired by Callahan’s childhood when his family spent summers on Cape Cod. His time along that seaside also included stints working at a restaurant, where, of course, the red crustacean was a popular menu item.
“I’ve seen a lot of lobsters in my day,” he said with a chuckle. “I always loved my time out there.”
His wife’s younger years bolsters the seaside-related paintings, as she spent a good amount of time along the coast of Maine.
Today, Callahan’s art is known worldwide. In the late 1980s he learned about oil painting and its various technical aspects and has since spent much time traveling to not only practice the craft but teach it.
During the summers, he teaches at Bild-Werk Frauenau, an adult education summer academy in Germany nestled in the Bavarian forest. He has painted in other areas of Europe, including France. He spent a year (1998-1999) on sabbatical painting in Provence, a region known for its diverse landscapes; while there, still life painting was part of the work.
About his extensive exhibits, he says, “It’s nice to get it out to people who appreciate the art.”
Such exposure has extended into major motion pictures, after a former St. Paul’s student – who now works on movie backdrops and sets – contacted him.
“She asked if she could use some of my paintings in movies she was working on. Sometimes they were specific scenes and paintings, sometimes it’s been just whatever may correspond,” Callahan said, noting that the films “Julie and Julia” and “The Affair” are among those to have featured his artwork. “It’s so exciting to see and have that exposure.”
While Callahan’s paintings can typically be seen at various galleries around the region, current social distancing and stay-at-home orders are making them available only online for now. They can be viewed and purchased at www.colincallahan.com.