Ian McKinnon combines the precious and the everyday in shimmering, delicate artworks in Prismacolor pencil on gold gesso on wood.
The Halifax artist, who exhibited this month in Harvesting/Time at the Artists’ House Gallery, Lucky Rabbit & Co., Annapolis Royal, celebrates ordinary objects, people, the land and the sky referencing iconography in his use of gold.
For McKinnon the act of art-making is sacred and these pieces are both sacred and laden with mortality. They carry within them the knowledge of change, decay and death – “something we don’t want to talk about,” says McKinnon, a practicing Anglican.
McKinnon has lived with HIV when so many of his friends and acquaintances vanished in the scourge of the disease.
“The odds were against me,” he says. A year after hospitalization, “I had a non-detectable viral load and my T-cells keep getting higher.
“I’m very, very fortunate. For those of us who are positive I’ve made it but there’s nobody here. I’m not bumping into so and so and saying, ‘It’s been 20 years.'”
Everyone he met who was sick wanted to live and had a good attitude. “I have no idea why I’m here. It’s not because of my attitude. You live with the why.”
McKinnon’s pictures, from four distinct series, are meditative, often wistful images pulling a viewer in with an exquisite build-up of tiny lines, potent shadows and the gleaming gold that frames still life objects, landscapes and skyscapes and photographs from the artist’s Wallace Station childhood.
McKinnon pins the family photographs – white, scalloped-edged black and whites of the 1950s and 1960s – to a board and focusses in on the shadows they create. His intent is to make them look “like they will blow away.”
The details of the miniature figures are blurry so they stand in for everyone’s childhood memories of family members.
“For a few generations photographs carried our memories. They too will disappear. Everything passes, even the things we cherish and the things we hold.”
People visiting the show respond strongly to objects they have cherished, whether it’s a perfect red apple or a plain, kitchen frying pan or a vintage toy train. One bluey green leaf with curling edges above spring-green shadows is a poignant study in frail beauty.
McKinnon’s landscapes are rooted in deeply contemplating and reworking digital photographs including one of Annapolis Valley fields taken by Paradise, N.S., painter Janice Leonard. His surfaces on wood are highly worked, crafted and distilled away from observational drawing.
“I’m taking the digital record. I get to mine that and infuse it with a different meaning. I’m looking for the divine hot spot,” he says, laughing.
McKinnon’s art-making today is framed by his Christian faith. He has a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Trinity College, University of Toronto, as well as a BFA from NSCAD and a MFA from Concordia University. He was parish artist-in-residence at St. Paul’s Anglican Church from 2014 to 2017 and taught drawing at NSCADU from 2003 to 2020.
He calls this show Harvesting/Time because he is turning 65 on Sept. 19 and is looking back over his life. “This is a rich time of harvest. You bring into your soul the things you’ll carry into eternity.”
He perceives the process of drawing as “one means of being present to God. Essentially, it is drawing as prayer.
“If you can imagine the sound of a pencil, that scratch, to me that is like a chant.”
Drawing is a “focussed, intentional, repetitive activity that makes you present – if you wish to be – to God. It’s always our choice. God is present. It’s our choice if we want to be present to God.”
The pencil will not allow him to perfectly copy and find exact colours. “Where the limitations come the true sacredness begins.”
McKinnon started making art as a child with Prismacolor pencils and later became a painter. “It has taken me 40 years of deprogramming to get NSCAD out of my system. I’m just the kid that wanted to make beautiful things to make the world better and I’m finally doing that.”
At NSCAD he was taught that beauty was not art and he entirely disagrees. “Beauty is healing.”
(See more of McKinnon’s work on https://www.ianjmckinnon-artist.com/