CNY artist conveys women’s shared experience with “Reconfiguration”

CNY artist conveys women's shared experience with “Reconfiguration”

Artist Lacey McKinney discusses gender inequality, quarantine, and her exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art.
Published: December 11, 2020 | Updated: December 21st, 2020 at 10:39 pm
Lacey McKinney's art observes unequal power structures between men and women, particularly marginalized women of various backgrounds.
Lacey McKinney's art observes unequal power structures between men and women, particularly marginalized women of various backgrounds.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night often serves as a distinct memory in first encounters with art; the thick impasto surface mixing blues and yellows as a loose depiction of a night sky becomes permanently embedded in the viewer’s brain. It’s almost impossible not to think of this painting as the definition of modern art, and for local artist Lacey McKinney, this is where her journey began.

Looking back at the work she previously admired in childhood compared to her work now, McKinney has come a long way in how she conceives of gender inequality and identity. There were virtually no women artists that McKinney remembers being exposed to growing up, and as she reflects on the artists she had access to, she mainly remembers them being white and male, which influences her work today.

McKinney’s current exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art, titled Reconfiguration, on view until Jan. 24, 2021, explores portraiture in an unconventional way – instead of focusing on a sole identity, McKinney’s show dives deeper into the shared collective experience of women, and what it means to represent voices from different backgrounds. Relating to other women is an important part of McKinney’s own experience, and she strives to create a platform that uplifts them through her work.

“I was thinking of, ‘How can I represent something that’s more pluralistic, that’s showing multiple identities coming together,’ but then also acknowledge some of the problematic things about how we’re existing within these structures,” McKinney says.

Lacey McKinney's art from
Reconfiguration 25 and 26

DJ Hellerman, the chief curator at the Everson Museum, has worked closely with McKinney since she initially reached out to the museum, doing studio visits as she prepared works for Reconfiguration, which opened Nov. 14.

“People coming in really, really enjoy the show and I think it’s a really safe and refreshing way to see work in real life,” Hellerman says. “…You know, the more time the better I think, with the show, but the reception has been great.”

There may be more opportunities for collaboration with McKinney in the future, Hellerman said, calling her a “fantastic artist” and a “really great thinker.”

Focusing on mixed media and painting to explore “flesh and the body” regarding the way it moves and feels, McKinney also became interested in collage over the years and how the Dada movement reflected issues in societal structures while seeking social change. Assembling a collective female identity is no easy task, but it allows McKinney to further conversations surrounding statistics showing women artists are valued less than their male counterparts, according to statistics from the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Lacey McKinney's art from
Reconfiguration 16

Reconfiguration features an assortment of women displayed in a collage form as they intertwine on various canvases. McKinney alternates between the blue hues present in her cyanotypes and oils and acrylics that offer close up perspectives focusing on legs and faces, elements that society often associates with women. The mixed-media used only adds to the complex portrayal of these different converging identities, allowing viewers to get a sense of the conversations McKinney hopes to ignite.

As a white woman, her perspectives lie on the boundaries of race and gender as she observes unequal power structures not only between men and women but among women of various backgrounds, especially those marginalized. Using her voice as an ally, her work reflects questions she has about her own identity as well as acknowledging how the system she benefits from continues to be detrimental to other women.

“I think the biggest challenge for me is learning about the ways that I have been privileged through my life, and then also wrestling with the ways that I have been in a situation where I’m learning about systems of oppression,” McKinney says. “So, I think grappling with that and then grappling with the idea that change is really slow. And so, I believe that images matter a lot and how we are represented in media and in education. Anywhere that we can kind of see representations, I think that matters a lot so people who make images, I think, bear a big responsibility.”

Lacey McKinney's art from
McKinney wants her art to be as accessible as possible so that women from different backgrounds can display their work in galleries or museums.

As a local CNY resident, her goal was to connect to the Syracuse community on a personal level by becoming more involved after doing several shows in NYC, other states, and a residency in Charlotte, North Carolina. Several of her previous shows have involved collaboration with other women artists, including Women’s Work and Her Time is Now, both of which focus on many of the same themes present in the Everson exhibition.

Collaborating directly with other women benefits McKinney, as she continues to learn more about how other artists think and process different concepts. Accessibility is equally important for her, as she wants women from other backgrounds to be able to showcase their work in galleries or museums.

When she’s not working as a full-time art educator at Finger Lakes Community College or preparing works for exhibition, one of McKinney’s greatest joys is walking her two dogs and getting out in nature. She and her partner, also an artist, have been making the most out of their free time, spending it outdoors with family or simply supporting each other both personally and professionally.

Quarantine for McKinney somewhat reflects her life before the pandemic even began, and she notes that artists spend a significant amount of time in isolation anyway. The studio is her home whether COVID is a threat or not, but it has affected her public show at the Everson.

“The thing that’s hard about being in a pandemic is having, for example, the show at the Everson because normally you’d have a big opening and people would come in person,” McKinney says. “And so it’s a little more challenging when we have to keep people spread out when you’re actually trying to exhibit the work and the process after you made it in the studio or you’re trying to get people to see it. That’s the hard part.”

Despite new challenges arising from the pandemic, McKinney is continuing to work in her studio over the next year as she prepares for yet another exhibition with artist John Verney to take place at UNC Charlotte next fall.

Lacey McKinney's art from
McKinney's "Reconfiguration" exhibition will be on display at the Everson Museum until Jan 24, 2021.