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12 Questions: Kyle McKenzie

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

"What Painting Is" by James Elkins

2. What are you currently working on?

I’ve been dabbling in different things lately. My main studio work has been abstract landscapes based on memory. Also, I want to go deeper into plein air painting and am starting to organize a few murals at Missouri Southern State University (where I teach).

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

I think all artists must get used to failure, from things not working out in the studio, to being rejected from exhibitions, jobs, etc. Early on, I had instructors that encouraged me to apply to lots of opportunities. Of course, most of them didn’t work out, but all that rejection stops stinging so much after a while. The first teaching job I interviewed for was in a very remote small town in Oklahoma. At the time, I was disappointed to not get the job, but now I feel like I dodged a bullet as it would have been easy to get stuck there.

4. What is your most unusual habit?

I don’t know, I think I’m pretty boring in my habits. I prefer iced coffee all year...

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

Vilhelm Hammershoi. I don’t particularly care whether he paints me or not, but I would love to spend some time in his studio and see him work. His paintings come as close as any to capturing the sense of psychological and physical presence in mundane spaces that I often try to access in my work.

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like?

Recently, I had to move out of my rented studio. The entire north wall was covered in tall windows. Now, I’m working in my basement. As a small consolation for the studio downgrade, I bought myself some LED panel lights. I still miss the abundant natural light, but they make working underground bearable.

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

Mostly I wallow in self-pity, but I appreciate the optimistic tone of this question, so I’ll give it a shot. I’m not always good at following my own advice, but I guess I still subscribe to that stubborn old idea that just getting to work fixes almost every artistic problem. When I am very busy with other aspects of life, I can start to think of my neglected studio practice as burdensome or futile. Then, of course, a couple of days in the studio remind me why I make art. Then I start to look at the other things that are taking my time and ask how necessary they are.

8. Who/What influences your work?

Most of my work is about the mundane places in my life. I am often moved by the beauty and strangeness of light/shadow in the landscape or in otherwise unremarkable spaces. Nearly every day I have some simple visual experience that captures the uncanny feeling of having a unique isolated perspective while being connected to all of nature.

9. Do you collect anything?


10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

I am still trying to follow this advice. It can be so difficult to see past the current challenge or the next big task, that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Every course, commission, or exhibition comes and goes. Invariably, afterwards I wonder why I was so stressed out (and realize that my stress didn’t improve anything) – I want to learn to dedicate myself fully to each endeavor while keeping some perspective of how it fits into my broader life.

11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

My daughter, Fiona, was born a little over three years ago. I also teach at MSSU and usually carry a heavy teaching and service load. For a couple year after she was born, I got almost nothing done in the studio and I felt pretty bad about that. Recently, I’ve started trying to relax about my studio production and accept that this is one season of my life when I won’t produce mountains of artwork because I have a more important commitment. As I’m able to maintain this perspective, I can be happier in daily life and also plan for more productive ways to balance time in the future.

12. Share an inspiring image.

Fiona posing next to her purple blob drawing at a museum glow party

Kyle's work is available on ARTSY and on view at James May Gallery

Exhibition dates: Oct 3- Oct 28

James May Gallery

213 Steele Street

Algoma, WI 54201


Thu-Sat 10-5

Sun 1-5

Mon 10-1

or by appointment



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