Seeing Purposefully – An Artist’s Statement

My paintings are a personal record, a visual journal of scenes that have caught my eye and held my attention. My goal is to accurately document and artistically interpret the beauty that I see in the landscape, and create a record of my impression for others (and myself) to enjoy.


My artistic process relies heavily on observation — that is to say that I trust my eyes to “tell” me what to put on the canvas, how to paint it, what is important, and what is not. Perhaps I’m a bit like a story teller who blurs unimportant details and emphasizes the essential themes, all for the sake of composing a more dramatic narrative.

Recurring subject matter in my landscapes are mountains, trees, rivers and lakes, cityscapes and architecture.

My work, in both my subject matter and color palette, is optimistic, reflecting a sense of contentment with my home in Western North Carolina and my appreciation of the breathtaking scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Brennen McElhaney was born in 1968 in Santa Barbara, California. He studied fine art and illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1990.

In 2005, Brennen, along with his wife and their three children, relocated from California to Western North Carolina. They live in Arden (South Asheville) NC.

Brennen is a signature member and president of Western North Carolina Plein Air Painters, and is a strong advocate of the arts in the Asheville area.

My Story

I’ve always been an artist. As long as I can remember I’ve always loved drawing and painting.

When Star Wars was released, in the summer of 1977, I saw The Movie 18 times in the theater. The shear creativity of the movie, along with all the art (the concept sketches and production paintings) absolutely captured my imagination.

I was fortunate to go to art school and study illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design.

After graduation, back in California, I eventually landed a good job at a sportswear company doing apparel graphics (T-Shirt designs). I also got into a number of galleries to show my paintings. Even so, my wife and I were just barely making ends meet. We were both working full time, but it still wasn’t enough to get ahead. And we were racking up a fair amount debt.

A Radical Change

In 2005 my wife and I, took a huge risk that changed the course of our lives. We moved, along with our three young kids, from Santa Barbara, CA to Asheville, NC. I got the go-ahead from the company where I worked to keep my position as Graphic Illustrator and work remotely. We didn’t know anyone, but we seized the opportunity to start a new life and live more deliberately.

In North Carolina, everything seemed to be going well. We bought a nice house and settled into a good groove. But then, on January 11, 2008 my world came crashing down. Without warning, I got laid off from my job of almost 11 years.

I had never been unemployed. And I had never had so much responsibility on my shoulders—a wife, kids, house, debt, and bills. I was scared that we were going to loose our house. I was terrified that my wife would loose respect for me and the life that we had built would crumble. I was afraid that everything we had worked for would be swept away. I felt like I was free-falling.

What is Truly Important

We sat the kids down and explained that I had lost my job we had to ‘tighten our belts’ and cut back on all non-essential expenses. My son (who was 10 years old at the time) offered to give us his savings of 43 dollars to help out with expenses.

That day I learned a valuable lesson about family, generosity and what is truly important.

After unsuccessfully looking for employment for months, I started doing freelance work for a local entertainment company. (I was basically their one-man art department.) This eventually became a full time gig and we were able to get back on our feet financially.

I also began to pursue painting in earnest. I joined a local outdoor painting club and secured representation with three local art galleries. I also started a website that serves as a community directory for Asheville artists, galleries and art resources. The benefit for me was that, as a local advocate for the arts, networking opportunities were suddenly open to me in the arts community.

After a couple of years I realized that the galleries that were representing me weren’t really selling anything. So, I shifted gears and began to market my own artwork via my website.

My story is far from over. I’m still learning new things, working on my craft, and streamlining my business systems, but I’m finally getting traction. I’ve found that communicating directly with you makes all the difference. And I’m able to give a premium level of service that, in my experience, art galleries simply don’t offer.

Curriculum Vitae

Rhode Island School of Design
Bachelor of Fine Arts – Illustration – 1990

2012 – Pres. President – WNC Plein Air Painters
2008 – 2017 Art Director (Freelance)
2009 – 2010 Graphic Illustrator – FastPivot (Freelance)
2005 – 2008 Manager, Graphic Design – Big Dog Sportswear – Santa Barbara, CA
1997 – 2005 Graphic Illustrator – Big Dog Sportswear – Santa Barbara, CA
2004 Juror, Guest Lecturer – Goleta Valley Art Association
1995 – 97 Board of Directors – Santa Barbara Art Association
1995 Painting Instructor – Studio One
1994 Arts Liaison – Santa Barbara Parks Department
1993 Art Instructor – San Marcos High School (mini-course)
1993 Gallery Owner / Director – Gallery at Paseo Nuevo

2013 The Cliffs At Walnut Cove – Arden, NC – Solo Show
2012 Gallery at Studio B – Asheville, NC – Solo Show
2011 Nature ART Gallery – N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences – (WNCPAP)
2011 Alta Vista Gallery – Different Strokes
2011 Design Gallery – WNCPAP group show
2002 – 03 Arts Fund Gallery – The Canvas Project
1998 Montecito Frame and Gallery (3 person show)
1997 University Club of Santa Barbara – Solo Show
1995 Cannery Row Fine Arts – Monterey, CA
1994 – 95 Delphine Gallery – Santa Barbara, CA – Solo Show
1994 Gallery off Grand – Los Olivos, CA
1994 8th Annual Vaquero Days Art Show – Los Olivos, CA
1994 Hahn Horn Gallery – Santa Barbara, CA
1994 Townley Gallery, Santa Barbara Public Library – Solo Show
1993 Antioch University, Santa Barbara, CA – Solo Show
1993 Cabrillo Arts Center Semana Nautica Art Show – Award – 4th Place
1993 Montecito Frame and Gallery – Solo Show
1993 Danica House, Westlake, CA – Solo Show
1993 Gallery at Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara, CA – Solo Show
1992 – 93 Sterling K Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
1992 Faulkner Gallery, Santa Barbara Public Library
1992 California Visual Artists League – Jurried: Award – Best of Show
1991 Gallery 113 – Santa Barbara, CA
1991 Santa Barbara Visual Arts Invitational
1990 Rhode Island School of Design Woods Gerry Gallery – Senior Show
1985 Cabrillo Arts Center – Summer Solstice Show

Artsy Shark Gallery – Online Representation
Western North Carolina Plein Air Painters – Signature Member & President (2012 – Present)
Asheville Urban Landscape Painters – Member

2012 Rapid River Magazine
1997 Passport Gateway Magazine
1995 Passport Gateway Magazine
1993 Montecito Magazine

1993 Cabrillo Arts Center Semana Nautica Art Show – Award – 4th Place
1992 California Visual Artists League – Jurried: Award – Best of Show
1986 Arts Scholarship – Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation

Blue Ridge Mountain Paintings

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