Social Fabric began as a show about “the grid”. In many ways, it’s just that—paintings and works on paper that celebrate patterns, pattern density, and pattern collisions. But as the work progressed I thought more and more about how grids reflect social constructs such as maps, fabrics and product comparison charts. Grids invite comparative thinking—x/y, up/down, good/bad, frightening/comforting, in/out, familiar/unknown—concepts that can pull people, societies, and selves apart. But grids can be viewed holistically as well, and I frequently found my studio time to be a meditation on life as known now and life as it could become. And more importantly, a meditation on who I am now and who I can become.

I have no idea if the work will affect many others this way. How can colors and lines change the way a person thinks and feels? It seems unlikely, but posting pictures of two of the faith and doubt paintings on Instagram got this response: “ . . . the vibration makes me question my assumptions and sort of assumes I should question more . . . it makes me feel like my messes and my issues are all just a part of the works.” This is eerily similar to what I felt creating these pieces.

Here’s a bit of the thought behind the collections of paintings in Social Fabric.

Cap Hill

Capitol Hill in Denver (Cap Hill to locals) is Denver’s most dense neighborhood and had historically been the center of Queer life in Colorado. With gentrification and Denver’s growth, that has been changing. The same rainbow pattern forms the base for each of the three Cap Hill paintings, but each painting has overlays that enhance or mute the rainbow.

Colfax

The nine Colfax paintings are an homage to Piet Mondrian, the Dutch painter whose iconic grids were a force within the modern art movement. For almost 20 years, Mondrian paintings were very similar, but in the last two years of his life he began to innovate. Colfax imagines how Mondrian might have evolved his artistic vocabulary had he lived longer. Once known as the “Wickedest Street in America”, Colfax runs through metro Denver for over 30 miles and is the longest urban street in the United States. Still edgy, Colfax, too, is changing, although in a complex, uneven manner.

faith and doubt

In these paintings I put together patterns that intentionally collide, with colors that usually don’t go together. I painted these while listening to a podcast featuring Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who talks about the dangers of dualistic thinking. Rohr believes that life is best lived when “everything belongs”, accepting all parts of the self without hesitation or exception.

29.x

Starting with a hand-drawn 6 x 5 grid, 29.x are small color studies (6” x 5” paper with a 3” x 2.5” image) that use five colors, often randomly chosen, that cover 29 of the 30 squares. They are painted following a common algorithm based on prime numbers. I love working with prime numbers. Prime number sequences seem patterned but they are not. I’ve found that incorporating prime number relationships into paintings naturally leads to works that have perceived patterns but with visual surprises. This is an ongoing series, and I complete one, or a few, most days as a morning meditation.

heaven and earth

This painting sums up the exhibition, with soaring colors grounded by an asphalt-like patterned backdrop. It’s my prayer for committing to living a life of non-violence, acceptance, and compassion as best as I can.

Pirate: Contemporary Art

May 28 – June 13, 2021


7130 W 16th Avenue
Lakewood, CO 80214

Fridays: 5 to 9 PM
Sat/Sun: Noon to 5 PM

 

In a show focused on the exploration of grid-based patterns and the effect of pattern density on color perception, McKay asks viewers to think about the social impact of grids.

Grids reflect a sense of place and identity. They suggest graphs, maps and woven materials. They include and exclude–neighborhoods, school districts, redlining, clan patterns, product differentiation–all aids to define what is “self” and what is “other”. Yet grids show connections more than differences, and offer possibilities for seeing the world with a greater sense of “us”;

How will our perceptions and choices strengthen or degrade our social fabric?

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, 1.2.3.5 (A) follows the same paradigm as 1.2.3.5 (B) and 1.2.3.5 (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.

Aurora

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.