Painting the divine
Guardian Managing Editor
Published: Sep 07, 2013
Artist Jace Mckinney contemplates salvation in new exhibition
Bahamian artist Jace Mckinney is on a spiritual journey.
It’s a journey that is not only informing his personal growth but also his work.
The connections are obvious in Mckinney’s new works that will go on exhibit at the Central Bank Art Gallery next week, under the title “Decoding Salvation”.
And they are not surprising, given that Mckinney has started his studies for a master’s degree in divinity at Andrews University in Michigan.
“This work definitely comes from a personal place,” Mckinney told Guardian Arts & Culture. “It’s a part of looking at my own beliefs and needing to work out my own idea of salvation.”
Mckinney is known for his surreal illustrations and sculpture inspired by the visual elements of Junkanoo and the unique religious and folklore traditions of Bahamian culture. His work merges the ordinary and mundane with the fantastical, dreamlike spiritual journey of the human soul.
In “Decoding Salvation” Mckinney goes a step further and asks, “what is salvation?”
The idea for the series came about after Mckinney captured first place in the Central Bank Art Competition last year, and was inspired by American mythologist, writer and lecturer Joseph Campbell’s idea of the archetypal hero.
While Campbell looks at heroes in world mythologies, Mckinney turns his attention to the idea of the hero in modern society.
“For me, the idea of the hero has changed. The hero is no longer a savior character in our society. The hero is now the rock star, the celebrity, with wealth and power,” he says.
But Mckinney says he did not look at the modern day hero from the standpoint of wealth and power.
“It was about the sacrifice and how that is related to the idea of salvation. I decided to look deeper into the idea of salvation and how people look at this idea and how it relates to their own lives,” he explains.
Mckinney says one of the big questions that came up in the process was, “what is saving me?” in relation to what is going on in the world right now, a crumbling economy, a steady decline of the environment.
“What is saving us? Nothing in this world can stop the inevitable - death.”
The 30-plus paintings included in the show raise questions about mortality, struggle and loss, but ultimately speak of salvation as a victory.
“I wanted to approach (the works) from more of a positive aspect, in terms of celebration and triumph,” says Mckinney.
In ‘The Birthday Party’, Mckinney looks at the idea of the afterlife and its rewards. The painting depicts a birthday party in heaven, where a rebirth is taking place after the many trials and tribulations of life.
Along the same lines, another painting features a rake ‘n’ scrape band playing in heaven, an example of how Mckinney weaves aspects of Bahamian culture and society into his work.
In ‘The Great Divorce’, Mckinney says he references his religious beliefs in a look at the unraveling of the relationship between God, Adam and Eve after the fall.
Currently McKinney, who has a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, is immersed in religion. The decision to pursue a Master’s degree in divinity, he saids, had to do with learning more about his religious beliefs and its history, and how that fits into today’s world.
“I also wanted to grow my faith and grow as a human being,” he says.
“I am inspired and feel called to be an artist. Right now I am following a need to grow and to understand.”
He said he makes the time to paint despite a full academic schedule.
What Mckinney wants to stress most in this body of work, however, is that it comes from a very positive place.
“I’ve always contemplated the idea of mortality, of death. A lot of my work in the past dealt with weighty issues and I wanted to approach this from a light, very positive place of hope,” said Mckinney. “That’s where I feel the energy is in this body of work.”
He said salvation is a theme that he will continue to explore in his work.
“Michelangelo said that ‘the true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection’. That’s something that interests me as an artist, painting the shadow of the divine for us to engage with.”
• ‘Decoding Salvation’ opens Thursday, September 12, 6pm at the Central Bank Art Gallery, Market Street.