Like characters in a work of fiction, the figures in my paintings are confronted with challenges and conflicts as they navigate the settings I have created for them. I think of them as semi-autonomous individuals whose poses evolve as I paint them, and who become defined by the eventual actions that they assume in a composition. Because I do not make detailed preparatory drawings, the physiognomy of the figures evolves gradually as I alter their hair, posture or clothing. This method offers the maximum flexibility as I work out the elements that define each character directly on the canvas while painting. References from art history, literature, illustration and film influence the narrative in my work.
Many of my recent paintings are portraits depicting imagined scenes from everyday life. They deal thematically with the idea of movement and transition. Accordingly they show figures in transit; the bicycle in “The Passion of Fred”, the scooter in “Vespa”, the boat in “Alone at Last” and the car in “Belmont Avenue”.
17th Century Dutch genre paintings have been influential in the evolution of this series both stylistically and conceptually. Certain elements are rendered in the layered technique of the Dutch masters to create shimmering fabrics and transparent flesh tones. Conceptually I am interested in the role that genre painting occupied in the history of art. In accordance with the hierarchies that existed at the time, genre painting was considered a sub category in painting; less important than official portraiture or history painting. I find this hierarchy between genres to be interesting and relevant today in the context of contemporary art.
Part of what I would like to explore in this series is my ambiguous relationship to the whole idea of sub categories in painting. On one level I feel a need to mock the conditions that saw a hierarchy between history painting and genre painting (and therefore mock genre painting too). At the same time I find the innocence and devotion that the best genre painters brought to their work to be fascinating. I think for genre paintings to be really good they need to be lovingly made or else the whole thing does not work. Yet when familiar everyday activities are painted with such loving care the whole scene takes on a creepy sub-text. I try to incorporate this ambiguity in my work.
Kai McCall website
Studio visit to studio 2013