|Don't Look Now, But I Think We Have Company, |
2015, flashe on canvas, 20x16"
courtesy Gallery Naga
You might say that Todd McKie has the best of both worlds, that he is a wonderful painter who also makes us laugh. That his paintings are modern day frescoes by Giotto, on a mission, infused with the Holy Spirit of comedy.
|“The Terrible Burden of Beauty” (2007)|
And of course this is true. But what is also true is that he carries a double burden because of it, to make something special in paint, and to make it funny. One is hard enough. Two is darn near impossible.
|“Please Pass the Sake” (2007), flashe on canvas|
In art as in humor, you have to be brave, you have to be willing to be bad to be good. Both can so easily crash and burn. Both take great risks. Both can die a lonely death in complete and utter silence. And yet McKie goes there all day, every day, always has. Which is why his work is so widely beloved. You can't separate the two in him, the art and the humor. The yin and the yang. The Cheech and the Chong. The right half from the left half of the brain. They are like the two pedals that make his bicycle go.
|Todd McKie, "Feeling Any Better? 2007|
Not that he is complaining either. Clearly he wouldn't have it any other way. Clearly this is what inspires him, what challenges him, what gets his motor running, what makes him tick, what tickles his funny bone.
|Todd McKie, Geometry without Fear, 2001|
flashe on canvas, 48" x 36"
Courtesy of Gallery Naga, Boston
There is so much going on in this work. So much that makes these paintings fly. The same is true of the humor. If Todd McKie is Giotto in paint, he is Bill Murray in comedy. His paintings go everywhere: landscape, interior, still life, portrait, surrealism, abstraction, color field, hard edge, action, minimalist, etc, and so do his jokes.
|It's a Bird's World, 2014, flashe on canvas, 16x20"|
courtesy Gallery Naga
Sight gags, one liners, parody, satire, slap stick, biting, witty, wise cracking, clowning, fooling around, sweet, dry, dumb, playful, contagious, unstoppable, incorrigible, he pokes fun at everyone and everything, especially himself. You can hear his paintings snickering. You can hear them crack themselves up. They are still killing themselves after you've left the room and they can't wait for you to get back so they can have another go.
|Redball Express, 1993-- 25.75" x 31.5"|
|“Truth is Stranger Than Non-Fiction” (2006)|
And yet they are beautiful. His goofy, cartoonish, almost stick-figure narratives about life, his life, about love and art, about living on this or some other planet, are beautiful. Giotto beautiful. They are a gift, a pleasure to the eyes, a feast that would make Caligula blush. Gorgeous adventures in color and mark and composition and imagination and invention.
|Me and Hue, Babe, 2010, flashe on canvas, 24x20"|
courtesy Gallery Naga
And the color! How much time do you have? Can you take the afternoon off? No one living or dead makes color talk, no... sing, no... wax pure poetry, like Todd McKie. He is in a league all his own. And it is not just beautiful color; it is daring, delightful, delicious, brilliant, breathtaking, disturbing, subtle, elegant, dangerous, generous, unexpected, unspeakable, undiscovered, beyond the pale, beyond the horizon, sublime, grimy, grim, and divine. Color alone puts McKie in the Hall.
|Happy Arbor Day, 1993-- 27" x 32"|
|Todd McKie, A Proud Tradition, 36 x 48|
|“Bird, Interrupted” (2006)|
And the same goes for the humor. But what of it? Does he suffer for it? Is he punished, and not taken seriously as an artist because of it? After all, The Martian won best comedy last year. Some people just don't have a sense of humor, or appreciate its stature or critical place in our lives. The Greeks did. Shakespeare did. I'm just saying.
|Todd McKie, "Geometry" 2008, Flashe on paper, 22 x 28 inches|
|An Amazing Likeness, 2007, Flashe on paper, 22 x 28 inches|
But oh! To be both! That is indeed a gift. In the worst of times and best of times, we need this. We need this artworld court jester now more than ever. To lighten the king's court. To let the air out of the royal windbag. That is something special! And Todd McKie's paintings are just that! Something special!
|Jubilee, 2015, flashe on canvas, 20 x16"|
|"Flora" 1997, monotype, 23 x 30 1/2 inches|
|Gallery Naga Installation, 2016|
received his BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design. He has works in various public collections across the country, including the MFA Boston, the Microsoft Corporation in Seattle, and the University of Texas, Austin. For more information please visit Gallery Naga and his website.