Fair  October 13, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

5 Things to Know About Breakout Artist Danielle Mckinney

Photo: Pierre Le Hors Copyright: © Danielle Mckinney. Courtesy of the artist, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen © Danielle Mckinney

When fair-goers stroll the aisles of Frieze London, the art fair celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, they will see the work of breakout emerging artist Danielle Mckinney at the booth of Marianne Boesky, marking the artist’s first U.K. solo presentation. 

Danielle Mckinney did not start painting full-time until the COVID lockdown three years ago, and since then, she has become an overnight star gaining recognition for her moody portraits of Black women in rich interiors, posing in leisure. 

McKinney, who is co-represented by Night Gallery in Los Angeles and Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York, has works in the collections of major museums including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Her works, which feature powerful female figures in intimate spaces, have enthralled viewers who are pulled into these scenes through her detailed handling of pigment and the evocative and emotive figures she depicts.

On occasion of the artist's debut at Frieze London this week, Art & Object brings you five facts about this up-and-coming artist.

Photo: Pierre Le Hors Copyright: © Danielle Mckinney. Courtesy of the artist, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen © Danielle Mckinney

Danielle Mckinney, Shut Eye, 2023. Oil on linen, 20 x 16 inches, 50.8 x 40.6 cm. 

1. Mckinney works exclusively on solo Black female figures at rest

Mckinney reclaims and resituates the notion that in art history, Black women have been relegated to the fringes of paintings, often at work or in the background. Instead, she focused on the interior life of these often-forgotten figures: what they do when they get home after a long day – do they smoke a cigarette? Read a book? Paint their nails? Lie down on their sofa? McKinney’s paintings highlight the mundane, everyday life for Black women and focuses on their rest, while simultaneously creating distance between the viewers and the figures.

2. Mckinney begins with an all-black canvas

To get the moody, Caravaggesque lighting that so often haunts Mckinney’s work, the artist begins each work with a black canvas and then highlights the figures and their background in shades of brown, orange, green, and blue. 

3. She is inspired by vintage posters and magazines

Mckinney’s subjects are sourced from photographs and film, sometimes incorporating images from vintage magazines from the 1960s and 70s that remind her of her family’s history. Her interest in vintage photography often culminates in noir-like, cinematic moments of women at rest in dramatic poses.

Photo: Pierre Le Hors Copyright: © Danielle Mckinney. Courtesy of the artist, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen © Danielle Mckinney

Danielle Mckinney, Hindsight, 2023. Oil on linen24 x 18 inches, 61 x 45.7 cm.

4. She grew up in Montgomery, Alabama and was raised by the women in her family

Mckinney, an only child, was raised by her mother, aunt, and grandmother and often spent time with her grandmother and her friends in the country, listening to gospel music and knitting. It was her grandmother who encouraged her to begin art-making, and took her to her first painting classes. “My grandmother would put me in a room and give me all these magazines, and I would cut these figures out and build houses in shoeboxes," Mckinney told Vogue in 2022. "I would stay in there for hours, and I mean hours, and I would just be in my own world. It was the most comfortable, soothing feeling.” When she was 15, her mother bought her a Nikon camera. This early encounter with art put McKinney on the path to create. She went on to study photography at the Atlanta College of the Arts before going to Parsons School of Design in New York. When she began painting during the pandemic, Mckinney employed her photographic eye to create cinematic compositions that tell a story, or inner monologue, of the characters she creates.

5. Mckinney’s influences run the gamut from Barkley Hendricks, to Jacob Lawrence, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Henri Matisse

The quiet complexity of her subjects take their inspiration from Barkley Hendricks, the late preeminent 20th-century painter of Black portraiture whose work is currently featured in a solo exhibition at the Frick Madison. Mckinney's depictions of figures in interior, contemporary settings are influenced by the painting of Jacob Lawrence. Mckinney has also said that she is deeply influenced by French artist Henri Matisse. In fact, one of her works, After the Dance (2022) recreates, in the background, Matisse’s masterpiece, Dance (1910).

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