Prose and Abstract Art from Bill McEnroe

90-year-old artist Bill McEnroe, who was a winner in The Artist’s Magazine‘s 2012 Over 60 Art Competition, was kind enough to share this prose, which he had written as a pair to his abstract painting, Check Mate.


Abstract pastel painting by Bill McEnroe

Check Mate (pastel, 24×30) by Bill McEnroe

Check Mate
by Bill McEnroe

After watching some old men play chess at a senior center, I mused, How did chess come into being? I wrote a prose poem about its invention and then painted Check Mate.

I usually work from a small, rough sketch with the barest of information and make my first marks on the paper with a light color. I invent as I go, working from large to small, arranging shapes in interesting forms and taking advantage of unplanned events. Then I layer colors, some of which will be allowed to stand alone, while others, in concert, create interesting multicolored areas. I try to juggle soft edges and hard edges, which I hope lead the viewer’s eye through the piece. And, when I think I’m two-thirds of the way through, I quit, and I’m usually glad I did because overworking is the bane of the industrious.

My approach to art is to symbolically jump off the bridge and go places I’ve never been before while asking myself, What if? What if I changed the trees to purple or pink? What if I added a brown bear to the crowd at the farmers’ market? I don’t have a hard theory on what I try to communicate; I have no message. I just love to paint, to tell myself a story, and if others want to come along for the ride, they’re welcome.

Advice: Work, work, work. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Play. Once you’ve learned to do something, don’t keep doing it the same way over and over—get out of your comfort zone. Use what you can from others and believe in yourself. Don’t paint for grandma, don’t paint for the market—paint to please yourself and you’ll be fine.


In a black cave, ca. 250,000 BCE
overlooking the Indian Peninsula
a young Michelangelo-genius named Thog
picked up a 6″ frumpy rock and with with another
began chipping until he made an image
of a woman
a very pregnant woman
whom he called “Queen.”
pleased, he carved a male companion
and called it, “King.”
others followed. Two horses. Towers.
round pebbles he called “rooks”—
—because he thought the word was silly.
thirty two pieces in all.

What good are these?
Aha, I`ll invent a game.
on a ledge he drew criss-crossed lines with charcoal
and filled in the squares alternate with red clay.
I’ll line them up opposite, opposed and have each side
try to capture the Queen.
he taught the game he called, “ZXGSS,” (silent “X”)
to the clan—
we now call it Chess.
a game of war—Alas.

copyright 2012 Bill McEnroe

Learn more about Bill McEnroe’s abstract art at And, click here to read about the rest of our Over 60 winners in the March 2013 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

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