Danielle Mckinney – Comfort and Quietude
JUXTAPOZ|Summer 2021
Reclusive moments of deep reflection, introspection, and wonder come alive in her work, moods that have simmered all along as her new recipe arrives at the perfect temperature. Mckinney’s legacy is already rich with heartfelt interpretations of a universal sensibility.
By Kristin Farr. Portrait by The Artist

To question how the pandemic changed an artists’ work can feel trite—until the answer is miraculous. Danielle Mckinney made photographs, primarily, until the time confined at home found her painting in earnest with a raw, natural energy that had been quietly waiting to be fully unleashed.

Mckinney’s photography is already remarkable; look up The Guardian to see how her creative lens eases between camera and paint. Reclusive moments of deep reflection, introspection, and wonder come alive in her work, moods that have simmered all along as her new recipe arrives at the perfect temperature. Mckinney’s legacy is already rich with heartfelt interpretations of a universal sensibility.

Kristin Farr: What are you up to?

Danielle Mckinney: I’m trying to finish up these paintings for Fortnight Gallery. I’ll try to do one more today, and then spend some time with my husband. It’s good weather, and I’m glad it’s warmer.

Tell me more about your process.

Sometimes I’ll use a photo reference from Instagram or Pinterest. I’m always on my phone with social media, anyway, so when I see a photograph or something, it’ll trigger me to use it as a reference. Or I’ll see a painting when my husband and I are at The Met, and I’ll find a style that I like. What happens is I kind of project myself into it. So it’s like the photograph is the reference, and the painting becomes my way to actually make that image myself, so they’re kind of autobiographical in that way.

Sometimes I don’t even see them as myself; it’s just that I want them to be another figure, to change them up in some way. Somehow the photo sets the mood.

When I was little, I used to build these houses out of shoeboxes. I would take my grandma’s interior design magazines and cut things out, and put the house together first. The last part, which I really enjoyed doing, was to cut out some people from the page, a little family, and put them in this house. So it’s kind of the same thing I’m doing with the paintings. I’ll use the photo as a reference, and I’ll put the figure in this environment, and freeze her in this moment.

You made dioramas! Did you have siblings?

No, I was an only child. I would spend hours doing that. My mom even said my paintings are similar to what I did when I was a child. My family would be around, but I would be in a room for five hours with these houses, so I think there was comfort in controlling these little environments. I could say, “This is the living room, and I want it to look this way, and I want you to sit here.” They became these worlds for me.

The figures in your paintings often appear solo but seem preoccupied by relationships.

Exactly. They are in these environments, but it’s not like where you see an architecture photo, and there’s a figure talking about the space and the spatial dimensions. Figures are a way for me to find solace or comfort in these interior environments. It’s really reflective of thoughts, emotions, or things that have happened. Smoking a cigarette in silence with your own thoughts, or having a Negroni and feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside—they’re very inner-reflective and based on things that have triggered me in my own life.

Let’s talk about smoking cigarettes.

I’ve always smoked. I started when I was young. It was a cool thing to do when you were a teenager, and I continued to do it. Smoking in the paintings is the guilty pleasure for my addictions. People are always shocked when they find out I smoke. My family doesn’t like that I smoke. Cigarettes take me to a very introspective place. When I’m smoking a cigarette, the mood is already set, so the paintings allow me to be honest and freely admit I smoke cigarettes. I enjoy it, and they’re part of these moments with me. They’ve been there. When I’m happy, I smoke, when I’m sad, I smoke, when someone passes away, I smoke…

Smoking goes well with painting, too.

Completely. I’ll finish a painting, and if I feel it’s great, the first thing I’ll want to do is smoke a cigarette downstairs, come back up and look at it. The cigarettes are such a part of me, even when I try to quit or vape sometimes—I couldn’t deny the truth about myself. Even though the figures are not exactly self-portraits, I was like… they smoke cigarettes.

For whatever they might be thinking, it’s an adaptable prop.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine