Interview with “Medium” artist Jace McKinney: McKinney shares insights into his practice

By Katrina Cartwright

One of 33 artists participating in the upcoming exhibition, “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,” which opens at The National Gallery of The Bahamas on Thursday, December 14th, 2017, Jace McKinney will be leading a special members only workshop at the Gallery on Monday, December 18th. “Methods in Ethereal Beauty” will take participants on a journey through McKinney’s artistic process, then guide them through the creation of a unique painting that explores individual ideas of beauty and spirituality. Designed just for NAGB members, this event will begin with a tour of the exhibition led by the artist, who will share insights on his work, then segue into a relaxing sip and paint.

Portrait of artist, Jace McKinney.

A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, McKinney majored in sculpture with an emphasis on illustration. His Christian faith is integral to his practice and in 2013, McKinney began a new chapter in his career, enrolling in seminary at Andrews University, Michigan. Recently we were able to interview the artist who answered questions about his practice, interests and advent into the arts.

What inspired you to become an artist?

In hindsight, I think I always wanted to be an artist. As a child, I enjoyed comics and would create comic book stories. I thought it would be fantastic for me to create art for a living. After learning about Bahamian artists like Stan Burnside, Jackson Burnside and Eddie Minnis, then meeting John Cox during my first year of high school, I was confident that this dream could be realized.

How did interfacing with art and/or culture in The Bahamas affect your desire to become an artist or inform the idea that it was possible?

Sue Bennett-Williams was one of the first artists I met. I attended her afterschool art classes; it was here that she encouraged me to become an artist. One of the projects assigned during these classes had a huge impact on me and required that we seek inspiration from and reproduce the work of a practicing artist. I was drawn to a piece by Stan Burnside entitled “Dr. Jekyll Can’t Hide.” Mr. Burnside’s wife really liked my take on hthis painting  and decided to purchase it from me – it was the first piece I have ever sold. While delivering the work to the Burnside’s home, I was invited into Mr. Burnside’s studio and immediately decided that I wanted to create a similar space for myself. His work helped me to see that Bahamian art has strong narratives and history.

Why is connecting with the public important to you?

Artists bring awareness to issues by creating a visual narrative that should be well informed and conscious of its audience. This power is important as it can inspire the public to action and move leaders in a positive direction. Bahamian artists are great at identifying problems in our society, but we have only begun to recognize our power and potential to use art to present solutions.

How does your spiritual practice impact the way you work or the works themselves?

My spiritual practice is the foundation that the content of my work is built on. A friend and I were recently having a conversation about how artists have the ability to hold various realities in their hands. We are able to see the harmonious elements in two worlds that at times seem to oppose each other and make something beautiful.

Jace McKinney. “Benediction.” Acrylic, coloured pencil & marker on paper, 48 x 48, 2010. This work will be on view in “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism” on view at the NAGB from December 14th, 2017. Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection.

Do you think of yourself as a medium for a [particular] message or in the context of creating your work? If so, what does being a “medium” mean to you?

I don’t see myself as a medium. Mediums, in the traditional sense, were those who consorted with spirits and the dead. I see myself as a messenger of God. Before beginning a new work, I often ask God for guidance. Of course, I am only human and therefore make mistakes but my intention is to let God speak through my art.

How excited are you about returning to Nassau? What do you enjoy most about being home?

I’m always excited to return home! It’s wonderful to see friends and enjoy the beautiful weather and natural environment. There are some social and political issues that are a concern, but I try not to let them overshadow my opinion of my country and people.

Who is your favorite Bahamian artist, practicing or not, today? Why?

I like what younger artists and my peers are doing. Kishan Munroe in particular is a favourite. He did an awesome job documenting and narrating a pivotal event in Bahamian history, the sinking of the HMS Flamingo through his exhibition “Swan Song of The Flamingo.” I have always believed that documenting our history is important especially when I saw how passionately Americans and artists in America documented the inauguration of the first Black president. This is one of the major challenges we have as a young nation – documenting our history and important events – and one that artists can participate in changing.