Bruce McCombs Biography

Bruce McCombs




Printmaker, painter, photographer, and educator Bruce McCombs was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1943. He received his BFA in Printmaking from the Cleveland Institute of Art (1966) and his MFA in Printmaking from Tulane University (1968). He taught drawing, printmaking, painting, and photography at Hope College, Michigan, from 1969 until his retirement in 2021. His work has appeared in shows in Norway, Taiwan, Columbia, and the former Yugoslavia, among others. McCombs’s artwork is a part of many important collections including: The Whitney Museum of American Art; T=he Cleveland Museum of Art; the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Indiana; and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Hanoi, Vietnam, among others. 

Of particular interest to McCombs throughout his career has been the precision: first, the intricately detailed renderings of cityscapes and architecture as seen from unusual angles, such as from above or through a fish-eye lens. This eventually led to his interest in photorealistic watercolor painting, which he began focusing on in the 1990s. He continues to paint from his home in Michigan.

“From a distance, my paintings often appear to be a rendered depiction of a scene, but upon closer viewing, the parts are revealed as abstract pieces, built one layer upon another into realistic images.” - from the Bruce McCombs artist statement at David Barnett Gallery. "Beginning in the early sixties....(or 60's...) when I was at the Cleveland Institute of Art and later when at Tulane University In New Orleans, I worked primarily in the medium of etching. From 1970 through 1991, I produced approximately 100 large format prints. Their sizes were either 22" x 28" or 24" x 36". Because I had a sabbatical opportunity in 1990 to live in the UK for a period of time, I had to give up etching and find another medium. Since I had a print studio at my home, I had never been at a loss for facilities to etch and print. But, I would not have a print studio available in England. This prompted me to propose a sabbatical leave exploring watercolor painting. My love of photography was influential in developing my watercolor subject matter and style. Perhaps, the patience that I needed to work on etching plates (sometimes 3-5 months in developing) helped me use that same patient approach to watercolor because I develop my paintings with extensive glazing. When I returned to the states, I did a few more etchings, but realized that there was now an opportunity to explore and develop my art with watercolor, in color and in the positive. My etchings were in black & white (not required), and all plates are worked in reverse so the immediacy of watercolor was very satisfying. Subsequently, in 1992, I abandoned etchings altogether and have since worked exclusively in watercolor. The dimensions of the watercolor paintings are similar to my etchings (22" x 28" and 24" x 36") which were a comfortable size. Traveling has been helpful, because I especially enjoy architectural and automotive subjects and they are always available. When I photograph possible subjects, I compose but when I am ready to start a new painting, I rework and cut up the photo. I have used locations from our visits to the UK, Europe, Eastern Europe and many cities in the United States. Although distinctive landmarks turn up in my work, there are universal aspect to the cities and countries we have seen. What amazes me is that everything looks different when I travel because I am really looking and open to new subject matter, points of view and lighting."