Andrew James McKay: Scaring Away a Dream

December 9, 2022 - January 6, 2023

A conversation between Thierry Goldberg Gallery and Andrew James McKay


Thierry Goldberg: Tell me a bit about your work.

Adrew James McKay
: It's about the conditions of my life. I work directly from my lived circumstances and from the people I meet who then become sitters.

TG: What draws you to a person?


AMThere's not even one thing. People are just so radically different. Sometimes I’ll meet somebody and I’ll think I have an idea of who they are and how I might depict them. As soon as I start the picture it becomes immediately more difficult because they are no longer the same person, even in that short interval between initial interest and first brushstroke.

TG: Some of your figures repeat in your work? Would you say that's due to this aspect of change you find within your figures?


AM: It certainly has to do with the passing of time. I like the way people and relationships change over time and that definitely figures into it. I prefer working with the same person when it's possible. Obviously, it's kind of a burden to say to a person –  hey can I paint you for the next 50 years? Though I do think that revisiting sitters is interesting because the more you get to know someone the more chances you get to form a truer picture of them.

TG: Are you painting from life, memory, or photographs? Or is it a combination of the three?


AMIt's a combination. Sometimes moments can change very rapidly so I use photography as a way to document. That being said I am not doing photo-realistic work. As much as a photo is useful in the painting process, it is the feeling of why I took that picture in the first place that is  important.

TG: You use multiple mediums in your works. What is your process?


AM: It's radically different for every picture. Portraits require something different from landscapes. The more materials I have at my disposal the better I am at pronouncing my idea on the picture plane. In terms of layering media, I usually start with a drawing and layer paint over it. Then it's sort of a gradual process of alternating layers of paint and graphite. Ink always comes last.

TG: Your paintings have an etching-like quality to them. How did you arrive at this style?


AM: The long and short of it is that I grew up with a lot of books around, Greek tragedies and just a lot of books with weird engravings. As a kid, I didn’t know what they were but I knew that I liked them. I wouldn’t stylistically know what etchings or engravings were till several decades later but I liked the specificity and how this specificity seemed related to the detail and the craft of those kinds of images.

TG: I definitely see aspects of specificity and detail reflected in your work. What is it about specificity that you find to be intriguing?


AM: Sometimes I think – couldn’t I just be a painter who did some more parsimonious gestures? For me, the platitude doubles in the details. The details become an expression of individuality. I painted twins a couple of years ago and they are indeed similar but when you really get down to it they are quite different. I try to work with honesty and earnestness and want my work to carry a sense of fidelity to whomever or whatever I am depicting. I find the more time you spend on something the more differences are exposed.

TG: I get that. The art of observation seems to be increasingly at a loss.


AM: Observation is everything. That's the human experience, to be given this ability to look and comprehend, it’s a gift. Painting is a reminder of that. It becomes a way to slow down and observe. I feel fortunate to have carved out a way in which to spend my life looking and communicating with others.

TG: Do you then see your paintings as a way of confirming that you are seeing what everyone else is seeing?


AM: That can be completely different a lot of the time. Four or five years ago now I ran into that problem. I was painting a lot of  portraits and started wondering about the discrepancies in looking. This resulted in a project where I took pictures of different sitters and sent those pictures to a handful of painters globally. I was curious to see how they depicted everything, as well as what they found to be of interest. The whole process of this project made me aware that I only would ever be physically capable of expressing one perspective. As a human being, as good of a job as you think you can do describing something, I find multiplicity becomes very necessary.

TG: Tell me a bit about your palette. How do you think it reconciles with your need to encapsulate reality?


AM: I think color can really be anything. The more time you spend with color the more intensified it becomes. I find, in my working process, that the intensification of detail and color reaches a point where the painting is allowed to take on a life of its own. This automy fundamentally becomes an expression of my feelings.