Pirate: Contemporary Art  April 12-28, 2019
7130 W 16th Avenue, Lakewood, CO 80214


Opening and Artist Reception, April 12, 6 to 10 PM
Hours: Fridays 6 to 10 PM, Saturdays/Sundays Noon to 5 PM
Artist Talk, Saturday April 27, 2-3 PM 

Agility, Dog Food & Waterfalls: ideas from software engineering that can change how you make, view and understand art.


In this color-forward series, McKay uses prime numbers as a way to organize figure/ground relationships, color progressions, and line placement. Drawing from principles of software engineering, sets of paintings follow a common paradigm to create a “style” that allows for artistic variation within the boundaries of a stated set of requirements. Paintings can be understood on multiple levels, from visual to conceptual, encouraging different types of engagement between viewer and object.

Having worked as a software designer I learned to deconstruct the software of others to get insight into what makes good user interactions as well as what decisions make software problematic. Ultimately, the best software is both visually appealing and allows people to use it intuitively. I look at art that way as well, believing that the essence of any artist’s ‘style’ can be decoded and written as a set of specifications. It then becomes possible to see what makes an artist’s body of work form a visually-coherent series and analyze how an artist’s practice evolves over time.

To help viewers better understand this process, gallery tags display the requirements used in making the works in this exhibition. A portfolio gives additional insight, showing the preliminary drawings and algorithms used in their creation.






Why Primes?

With this series I wanted to say something new about color and space, yet initially was unsure how. Letting things stew for a while, one morning I woke from a dream with the phrase “adjacent prime numbers” stuck in my head. That ended up being the inspiration for this series of work.

A prime number is a whole number that cannot be formed by multiplying two smaller whole numbers (e.g., 2, 5, 41 are all primes). They occur in non-predictable sequences. That is, there is no mathematical formula which can accurately determine the next prime number after the previous one. Still, at least early in prime number sequences, they seem to follow a pattern before departing from that pattern. As such, I saw the use of prime number relationships as a way to introduce both pattern and exception.

Prime has additional meaning as well. I’ve always liked the look of gesso (a canvas primer material) and wondered why it needed to be covered up. This seemed redundant and wasteful when gesso itself could be used as ground. In the series, gesso is a prominent material in each work.

I’ve also taken prime as a call for quality, spending focused time at each step of the process from design to stretching of canvas to painting to applying varnish, striving towards a level of analog precision in the craft of the paintings. I’ve aimed for a sense of quality that while not perfect, is as good as reasonably possible from a human point-of-view without involving digital tools. This idea of the works being human-centric extended as well to the math involved in calculating figure/ground percentages and paradigms for color placement. All were done with a pencil without the use of calculator or computer. Showcasing human qualities also involved using solid colors and hard-edged straight lines, things rarely seen in nature.

Finally, prime connotes a sense of uniqueness. Within the series all colors, with the exception of black and white, are custom mixed. Titles include the prime numbers that were used in determining paradigms that apply to each work. For example, (A) follows the same paradigm as (B) and (C), using a rule-set from where the percentage of figure/ground (as well as other features) are the same, but making each work different within the boundaries of the rules. Conceptually, this is an extension of Sol LeWitts proscribed wall drawings but permitting a broader range of artistic choice than LeWitt would typically allow.

So a lot of words, but ultimately my goal for the series is to make work that is vibrant, engaging and visually interesting that can bring some respite to our hectic, digital lives.

Pouring Acrylic

In my poured works I apply acrylic paint to raw unstretched canvas in order to create composed works of high-impact color. This involves controlling the flow of acrylic through changing the viscosity of the liquid acrylics and using strategies to apply resistance to the flow of paint.

In doing so, I may angle, contort, or flatten the canvas. As paint streams, action is taken to divert its natural course or stop it all together. Paint mixtures are formulated so they glide on the top layer of the canvas rather than fully saturating it, leaving behind a history of the path of each flow of paint.

I accept the randomness inherent in using a liquid medium where gestures never show a 1:1 relationship between intent and achievement, and follow each new pour with time for reassessment, providing an opportunity to take further action, or non-action, to achieve compositional balance. The presence of a single color may include one, or more than 15 individual pours of paint.

Conceptually this work both draws from, and departs from, that of the color field painters Ellsworth Kelly and Morris Louis. In the case of Kelly, I adopted Kelly’s concept of using color for color’s sake and Kelly’s approach of making abstract shapes hard edged, but depart from Kelly by co-mingling colors to highlight contextual differences in color perception. In relation to Louis, I use similar techniques in the pouring of acrylic media onto raw canvas to create swaths of high contrast colors, but depart by increasing color opacity and in the deconstruction of form.

Philosophically this work explores the intersections of random and planned action and I view it as a metaphor for attempting to live with intention while accepting unforeseen events and finding a new balance to live well.


A month before the Aurora theater shootings I was working on a mixed-media series about societal expectations for boys, using covers from 1960’s comic books. The back cover of one of my comics was an advertisement by the Aurora Plastics Company, whose collection of models included superheroes. I completed a piece in which the Aurora Plastics logo was pasted on the head of the character Batman and placed it aside. A week after the shootings, I found the artwork, and going through my collection of comics found more back covers with Aurora Plastics advertising, which prompted this series. Each piece, constructed from a single comic book cover, including period advertising and public service announcements, evokes some aspect of the shootings, asking viewers to consider their own feelings and thoughts in response. Ray Rinaldi’s Denver Post review provides additional perspective about the series.