Greg Macdonald's distinctive watercolors are now on display at the MARC. [Courtesy image]

A walk through the Moab Arts and Recreation Center’s (MARC’s) main lobby these days is like a journey through the highs – and lows – of Greg Macdonald’s life as an artist.

An ongoing exhibit at the MARC traces the progression and evolution of Macdonald’s paintings and drawings, starting with a taste of his commissioned mass paintings that sparked a change in direction. It continues by moving on to the creative freedom and larger, bolder acrylic pieces that followed, and ends with the distinctive watercolors that he is perhaps best known for today.

The exhibit begins in a counterclockwise direction, starting off to your left as you walk in the MARC’s main entrance, where you’ll see a surviving example of his commercial artwork. That commercial phase was at its height in the early 1990s, when he was working for architects and other commercial clients in the Seattle area and beyond.

In 1993, a Westin Hotel commissioned an order of 400 paintings that would eventually bring that period to a resounding end. Macdonald paced himself by completing 12 paintings each day until he was done – with the project, and with the idea of working on commissions that left him with little time to think about what he was doing.

“That was the 400 that broke the camel’s back, basically,” he said.

But the experience was inspiring in a way: It turned out to be a great exercise in painting, and it also left him determined that he would paint for himself, regardless of whether or not anyone would buy his artwork.

Nearly 20 paintings came out of the period that followed, and he described the improvisational process of working on them as “pure, joyful, exuberant” – even as he was coming out of a dark time in his life.

“These were real expressions of that, and I’m very fond of them, but they don’t really work in people’s houses because they’re very strong and aggressive,” he said.

Not long afterward, his style took another turn, and the next painting on display toward the rear of the exhibit is much more labored, reflecting a time when Macdonald began to pay greater detail to the surface area of each canvas.

Meandering toward the one-o’clock mark of the MARC’s lobby, the exhibit jumps forward to a time around the mid-2000s, when Macdonald began to draw using a bamboo pen, a brush and walnut ink, creating beautiful-looking washes.

From there, color began to appear in his drawings, which started to look more and more like watercolors. Over time, he jettisoned his water-soluble pens altogether in favor of the watercolor brushes that he still uses today.

Macdonald calls art “the arrival of the unexpected,” and for him, the process is all about discovery, or finding new meanings and new narratives while he’s painting or drawing.

It’s a process that’s on display just about every day at the Red Rock Bakery: Macdonald is an early-morning fixture at the Main Street institution.

His ritual begins each morning at the bakery, where he’ll work on one – or sometimes two – watercolors before he heads off to do other things.

“For whatever reason, it has become a habit, but I look forward to it,” he said. “I want to get out of bed in the morning so I can go do this. It’s an essential part of my day.”

Over the years, Macdonald has worked as an illustrator, teacher and graphic designer, and today, he designs websites as a “paid gig,” although he can’t imagine another way to begin his mornings.

“It has become so important to me now that I just can’t let it go,” he said.

When kids pass by his table and their eyes light up at the sight of his work, it’s reason enough to keep at it. But Macdonald said he’s also invigorated to hear from those who say they used to paint and would like to pick up a brush once more.

“If I’m doing anything, I hope I will inspire them to (paint again),” he said.

New exhibit features local artist’s paintings, drawings

What: An exhibit of Greg Macdonald’s artwork

When: Mondays to Fridays through July 31 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North

Cost: Free

Information: 435-259-6272; gregmacdonald.com

The MARC is located at 111 E. 100 North. If you would like to purchase any of the artwork on display, drop by the MARC’s office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays. To see more of Macdonald’s work, visit his website at: gregmacdonald.com.