kate mackinnon

Maximum Value

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looking closely at things i haven't seen

Kate MacKinnon, CME Study (detail), 2013, acrylic on canvas over panel, 18 x 18 x 3 inches

Kate MacKinnon, CME Study (detail), 2013, acrylic on canvas over panel, 18 x 18 x 3 inches

Statement - Looking Closely at Things I Haven't Seen

For several years, I have been observing the waning activity of Solar Cycle 24. Studying online satellite images of solar flares and coronal mass ejections, and reading about any resulting geomagnetic storms that could bring the appearance of the auroras.

Initially, I was fascinated by the raw power and beauty of the images of the sun. Connecting these images of cataclysmic upheaval with the calm cool beauty of the auroras became a focus of this work.

In both instances the observations have been mediated, the solar images by NASA satellite feed, and the aurora imagery through online photographic archives. Seeing the auroras in reality remains high on my personal bucket list.

As with most work, it eventually becomes autobiographical. I start to equate the external phenomena with the internal rhythm of my own experience. Maximum value in a cycle is the extreme periphery of transition and change. A cataclysmic moment just before normalcy returns.

The studies on canvas and the works on paper in Looking Closely At Things I Haven’t Seen are all explorations of a larger color story underway in my studio. Maximum Value will describe a color transition in a series of 100 one-foot square paintings. This project will be complete and on view in 2016 with the final large-scale seasons paintings.

Neither here nor there

Kate MacKinnon, Eight Days in a Prius, 2013, oil on canvas over panel, 36 x 72 x 3 inches

Post Arcadia

About Post- Arcadia

Kate MacKinnon's work approaches the viewer with a seductively glossy surface and an object-like visual weight produced from the canvas's 3" thick panels. As alluring as these shiny abstract paintings seem, they hold a heavy sense of loss, due to the drainage of color from the majority of each piece. Both the absence and instance of color in this work creates a sense of longing. As with memories, they provide us a scene where only parts are vivid and the rest fades and blurs.

Post-Arcadia is an exploration of a world that is rapidly becoming both paler and darker. Arcadia, as depicted by Renaissance painters, is a beacon of unspoiled wilderness. Post-Arcadia is a vision of our present environment through a lens of homage and memory. The bands of color in each piece recall a more abundant life in scenes from our increasingly desolate natural environment.

The cloud renditions in No More Blue Skies are based, after much iteration, on the work of Cy Twombly. These twelve paintings and the accompanying drawing series for C.T. with love are homage to Twombly, as well as to the disappearance of our fresh air. 

The Dream; thanks Henri is a more literal reference, as Kate has appropriated many compositional elements from Henri Rousseau's painting of utopia. This large painting is as drained of color as the other works in the series, except for the bold green vertical passage, where the bright colors that "once were" shine through.

This work can be described as a memory of a dream. As the natural environment fades, we are only allowed slivers of the previously unspoiled wilderness. The same experience can be true when looking at past artistic masters and artworks; we live in the present with vivid streaks of the past shining through. This body of work appeared to Kate in a dream after Twombly's death, and the creation and presentation of these paintings is the recreation of that dream and our collective experiences and memories based on present-day landscapes.


Kate MacKinnon received a BFA Massachusetts College of Art, MFA MICA. Her paintings have been widely exhibited in the mid-Atlantic region and appear in numerous public and private collections. MacKinnon builds her paintings from thin layers of transparent glaze, a process that produces luminous color and richness of surface referencing industrial finishes. She begins her work horizontally, deepening color with each consecutive layer of glaze. Wrinkles form during the final coat as the paint cures and contracts. Then, works are turned vertically, allowing gravity to interact with the viscous underlays to create bulges. Kate is currently an artist-in-residence at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore and has been showing with Jordan Faye since 2005.