American, Minesota-born painter Sam McKinniss explores popular culture in the contemporary digital age through expressionistic, figurative renderings in oil paint of images gathered from Google.Read More
McKinniss' range of subject matter is a cornucopia of contemporary popular culture, featuring images of celebrities like Diana Princess of Wales, Whitney Houston, Tyra Banks, Madonna, and Lil' Kim, and films and television series such as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Catwoman. Generally limiting his subject matter to what has occurred in his lifetime, much of the artist's work is firmly sited in internet culture. The artist describes Google as containing a 'catalogue of pop phenomena' and unabashedly appropriates from this repository. Everyday imagery that we take for granted in Google's near-infinite photographic archive is valued through this artistic, post-modern figurative elevation to the status of iconic art.
McKinniss' artwork has itself become an icon of pop culture since he painted a portrait of internationally acclaimed New Zealand singer Lorde in 2017 for the cover of her second album, Melodrama. Already an acquaintance of McKinniss through mutual friends, the young pop music icon reached out to the artist after visiting his solo show Egyptian Violet (Team (gallery, inc.), 2016) and seeing his gigantic Prince (2016) oil painting.
As McKinniss' nature paintings demonstrate, he paints more than just fame and celebrity, regularly delving into art-historical subject matter. He pays homage to 20th-century illustrators and 19th-century portraitists like Norman Rockwell and Henri Fantin-Latour, looking to Fantin-Latour in particular for inspiration. Producing still-lifes and portraits with titles suffixed by 'after Fantin-Latour,' the artist has also self-effacingly stated 'I wish I could paint like the French hybrid post-Impressionist realist symbolist Henri Fantin-Latour but I cannot, so I just copy his paintings.' Using heightened colour contrasts to create light, shade, and volume, the artist's techniques show a strong influence of these forebears.
McKinniss graduated from The Glasgow School of Art in 2005, later receiving a BFA from the University of Hartford (2007) and an MFA from NYU Steinhardt, New York (2013). He has featured in Art Basel in Miami Beach (2015), Basel (2017), and Hong Kong (2016 and 2018).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2019