Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kenrick Mcfarlane Paints Raw Vibrancy and Race in Chicago

"White Face"

Jamaican-American artist Kenrick Mcfarlane is currently pursuing a BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  After three solo shows in 2012, Mcfarlane was selected to participate in the EXPO Chicago exhibition “Eclectic Coherence.”  When interviewed, Mcfarlane repeatedly expresses gratitude and humility for the support of his work and welcomes contact from other young artists in the hopes of building a community of professional support and comradery within the field of studio art.

Mcfarlane stresses the aesthetics before the politics in his painting; he hopes to visually engage his audience before they tackle the content of racial or socioeconomic tensions in the work.  And visually engaging they are.  His unique color pallet keeps the eye traversing through layers to process how the colors compliment and converse with one other.  His deeply engaging portrait work relays a sense of candid identity--the viewer feels immediately and intimately acquainted with the human on the canvas.

"untitled (fashion study)"
Reminiscent of Francis Bacon and the Fauvists, Mcfarlane’s work is vibrant, fleshy, luminous, and raw.  The oil work “Jason Robinson the Saint” radiates light and energy from the canvas--I find myself desperate to know this man’s story.  Fashion study (pictured) is somehow both audaciously stark and still humanistically vulnerable, a complexity rendered in very few strokes of the brush.  “White Face” is simply my new favorite painting.  Mcfarlane succeeds in his endeavor to captivate my eye and activate my mindfulness with this striking image.

Kenrick Mcfarlane clearly possesses a distinct interest in and gift for painting as a craft.  Contemporary art critics have claimed he exhibits “the makings of greatness,” (H.A.S. magazine).  In this critic’s opinion, he is already exhibiting great things.

"Jason Robinson the Saint"

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Follow-Up Conversation with Artist Hillary Miles

"Far Away"
Photo courtesy of Hillary Miles
-You mentioned an interest in children's books and sci-fi stories.  What particular fantasy characters and tales have inspired your work?

There’s a beautiful economy of structure and wealth of symbolism in children’s stories and old myths that I find completely appealing.  And while I love the range of possibility that science fiction and fantasy stories have to offer, I am especially compelled by the way their boundarylessness is always tethered by a camouflaged truth—I try to evoke that tension in my characters. 

Three great female characters that I admired growing up were cartoon “Princess of Power”, She-Ra, the neutrally-aligned witch character of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” played by Bernadette Peters, and Sarah from Jim Henson’s “The Labyrinth”.  I also adore Jim Henson’s proclivity for making friendly monsters, and other unconventional creatures that are never quite what they seem to be.  Though I read and was read to a lot as a kid, many of my favorite stories are actually movies, and I think I’m especially drawn to the coming-of-age tale and the emphasis on duality and transition.  The characters in these stories have an inherent liminal quality to them that feels kind of mystical to me.  Most of my female characters are young women who are inhabiting two, or multiple, realms of possibility at once.

-Can you talk a little about the special bundles your monsters carry?

I started giving the monsters their bundles after reading the Popol Vuh, a Quiche Maya origin text that mentions sacred bundles in several of its stories.  There was this vague implied association between the bundle and the (Jungian) Self that really interested me, but also, I responded to the gesture of carefully wrapping and protecting your most sacred and treasured objects, thereby fortifying their power.  The beautiful thing about painting these bundles is that the viewer gets to breathe a whole complex narrative into the monsters by imaging their very own sacred objects and ideas inside of the bundles, reinforcing the power of their own personal myth.

-What can you tell us about the diverse, emotional expressions of your "Grumpy Butterfly" series? 

The “Grumpy Butterflies” are the ridiculous result of doodling my feelings out.  I seem to deal better with sadness and rage through a veil of humor, and I love that the butterflies can be totally unrestrained even when I can’t be. 

-"Pretty Girl" is such a compelling, vibrant piece.  Are you commenting on the social behaviors of human flirtation?

"Pretty Girl"
Photo courtesy of Hillary Miles
This one began as a simple character study, but became a strong statement about the sexualization of girls and the infuriating and destructive messages dominant culture sends to young women about their bodies.  That is, the emphasis on physical beauty, and the narrow definition of those terms, and the idea that as a woman you are obligated to be “pretty” for other people, and that the sum of your worth is embedded in your ability to preen yourself to ridiculous and harmful standards.  It makes me beyond grumpy!

-What's next for your adventurous, quirky women? 

I would love to see them in the pages of books for young people to digest.  Even better, to eventually transition to the world of motion pictures—that would be the biggest dream come true of all.  For the moment, I will continue to paint them, venture further into the realm of 3 dimensions, and do my best to assure they continue to tell important stories.

"Space Girl"
Photo courtesy of Hillary Miles

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Artist HILLARY MILES Gifts Chicago Quirky, Confident and Adventurous Women

Art Institute of Chicago graduate and self-declared sci-fi and fantasy fan, Hillary Miles utilizes her broadly-minded, mythical creativity to forge a new kind of heroine.  Her piece “Slither” features a young woman serenely coddling a live snake; another painting, “Samantha” portrays a girl calmly acquiescing to the enveloping embrace of a large, cantaloupe-colored monster.  A collector favorite, the “Space Girl” series, depicts women astronauts in bold eye shadow and pearls amidst vast and placid cosmos.

Miles' other work in gouache painting includes monsters, “Grumpy Butterflies,” and other enigmatic animals in a milky and candy-toned palette.  These creatures translate a surprising depth of personality and will perhaps inspire more girls to be like “Samantha” and befriend the monsters under their beds rather than fear them.

Miles’ women are all a bit quirky and convey an innate, confident strength. They are role models to foster an adventurous spirit in women of any age.  

My gratitude for this work goes on for Miles. 

See Hillary's paintings and follow her saga at

(photo courtesy of the artist)