• Rapid fire marks on household paint, washed-over layers, jabs of spray paint and scrawls of charcoal. White space dominates the canvas, giving a sense of calm and space from a distance. Yet get closer and the compositions tilt your comprehension - marks seem unfinished and passes of colour are half-blocked.

    There are no titles to help you find a narrative, but the paintings draw you in, searching for meanings or intentions. There’s something inherently intriguing about McKenna’s marks and their instinctual energy - offering no stories or narratives, yet giving a lot.

    Leaving behind her work in fashion, McKenna made a mid-career swerve towards painting and drawing, making the means of communication more direct and personal, displaying a confident and distinct hand.

    JM: How did you come to painting from a fashion background?

    AMcK: I am curious by nature and have always straddled different worlds. After my formal training in Fashion at Central Saint Martins in the ’90's I studied Fashion Journalism after initially getting a place for Fashion Textiles.

    Ten years later then, a long stint of living in NYC, Louise Wilson at CSM gave me a place on the MA Fashion course. 

  • Five years ago I started making small sculptural pieces out of found wood, cardboard and clay. While showing these in group exhibitions and artist-lead art fairs, I did a lot of drawing. I was studying Eastern philosophy and reading Maurice Tuchman’s catalogue for the LA County Museum show The Spiritual in Art (1989). Looking at Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint. I could - and still do - feel this sense of transitioning and energy in the world, ... I was trying to articulate these ideas. So I started with a lot of drawing and only a little painting.

    JM: You jumped from intimate drawings and sculptural pieces to large paintings, sometimes working in diptychs. Why?

    AMcK: I am interested in composition and always try to find an imbalance in something. Often, when a painting begins to show potential while not being balanced or in any way complete, it jars me and I start to find it intriguing.

    At Central St Martin's (CSM) on Charing Cross Road I would spend hours looking through copies of Harpers Bazaar. I was really into the work of US art director Alexey Brodovitch — his use of white space and playing with the page fascinated me. 

    Later, when working with my drawings on a photocopier I would find that I had overlapped them, subconsciously - and  loved that sense of randomness.

  • I think I am always trying to find that looseness with the paintings. I like to work with two canvases next to each other and often the marks will work against each other. I can see the relationship between the two, like looking at layout.

    For me it’s finding the courage to stop at a certain point and not over overpaint the canvas. Normally, about a day or two into a new painting it begins to look unbalanced. That’s the point that I find interesting. It’s like an opening... but you have to have the courage to walk away
    from it. 

    I don't like things to be laboured. It’s just about the energy for me, leaving that mark on the surface and that moment of energy on the painting - kind of undone or unfinished and yet expectant. I would rather work on four or five paintings at one time and find this surge, but at least working on two means I can try to keep it loose. 

    JM: You spend a lot of time in Andalusia and you live in Sussex. How do these places affect your palette?

    AMcK: Light is a big draw for me. Most of the paintings in ‘Harmony of Opposites’ were done from January to March 2017. There was a white, seaside light in the studio in Sussex kind of driving me mad, as everything was washed-out and just seemed grey.

  • My paintings are abstract but normally come from a figurative, landscape base. I will look and walk, sit in the same places in Sussex where there is such an intense, creative history (around Charleston, the home of the Bloomsbury Group and Virginia Woolf, and visited by Picasso and Man Ray). I make a few watercolour sketches then go back to the studio. In Spain I look at the curvature of the mountains and paint right there in the open air with the canvases on the ground.

    I tend to begin with bold colour, then for this show everything got washed away and it was about reduction. The charcoal line was left to show the contour lines of ‘that bit’ of hill or line. The spray paint comes in because I find I can get a random mark with it. The Spanish landscape is very expansive, particularly in midday heat with overhead light, so there is a much broader stroke and a bigger expression. 

    JM: Whose work do you like?

    AMcK: Antonio Tapies was one of my early, big influences. A book from a secondhand bookshop must have found it way to our house. I remember looking at it at when I was about six or seven years old and just feeling mesmerised by it, probably by his energy radiating from the page. However, I can find inspiration in an interestingly cut jacket or a haircut. I admire Yoko Ono, and Richard Tuttle (because you can't pin him down), Gary Hume, Ellsworth Kelly and David Hockney’s drawings. Ai Wei Wei is an incredible artist too. I was in tears at his RA show, he was imprisoned for his art!

  • JM: Why do you never name your work?

    AMcK: Because it categorises things too much. Words are too heavy, and energy doesn't have a language. I don't like narratives in paintings. You can go and see a good band or piece of music and it catches a moment. Right now I’m not  interested in anything ‘in the head’ - it’s all about the heart energy - and its moving through you - which is what abstraction is.

    John Marchant

    A Harmony of Opposites was curated and arranged by the John Marchant Gallery and hosted by the Eagle Gallery London, July 2017.

    John Marchant Gallery

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