Interview with artist Shaina McCoy.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your path as an artist...
I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am based out of St. Paul, MN. I have been painting since 2010. My first painting was a submission piece to be accepted into an Arts High School. After so many years of drawing, I thought a challenge wouldn't steer me wrong whether I was accepted or not. I got into Perpich, and that is where I spent my junior and senior year learning various mediums. It wasn't until 2012 (senior year) that I was introduced to oil paints. I went through stages of unfamiliarity and gradually became confident and comfortable with the medium. It felt like an unveiling of self, that I did not know could exist. I have always been a creator, but that year showed me that I had so much potential.
2. Take us through a typical day, in atypical times.
My days are pretty similar now that I have found a studio flow that works for me. I usually am a late riser, but ever since daylight savings hit, I've been missing the sun. So, I decided to switch my whole energy up. I wake around 9:30am, make an oat milk latte, brush teeth, make a to-do list, and head out. From home, I get all my distractions aka errands out the way. After those things are taken care of, I have a clear mind, and can enter the studio. Once I'm there, I light a candle or incense. I really love smell-goods. There's something about lighting a candle that sets the intentions for the space. I find a song that fits my mood in that moment, and begin to paint.
3. How has the pandemic affected your practice? This can be tangible, or just in the way you think about your art.
Ever since the pandemic hit, and then the uprising, I have been very intentional on how I spend my days. Tomorrow is not promised, so I must make the most of what I have here on Earth. There's so much I wanna say in such an atypical, and sensitive time.
4. What are you working on at the moment, is there a certain question you've been trying to answer with that recent work?
I am working on a series of paintings based on slides my Pop Pop acquired. These slides were taken by a white woman who went on a missionary trip to Africa in the 1960's. There are several hundred slides that I will begin to scan for painting material. I rarely paint folks that I do not know, but previewing these images has ignited a different flame. The colors, communal gathering, texture, human connection, and compositions are so sweet. These images do not deserve to be kept in a box, they should be shown to the world, and I intend to do just that. I want to give them another life.
5. The figures in your paintings are faceless, but this doesn’t make them less intimate. Can you tell us about that choice and how you see it? What led you to make figurative work in particular?
I started making figurative work back in 2012. I was given an assignment to create 30 paintings. In the span of three weeks, we created 10 tiny paintings each week. I was the most comfortable with painting my family as sitters while my peers painted landscapes, architecture, and animals. My mom had bins on bins filled with material I could paint from. I enjoyed the exploration of different art elements then, and still do till this day. Every painting is so different from the last.
I have been creating faceless work since 2012. The simple answer is that I could not paint realistically. I tried so hard. If you look on my website, you will see two paintings that have facial features. One of which is me as a toddler kissing my cousin Taylor. He has eyes, and that's it! The next one you will see a baby with blue eyes, a little nose, and mouth. Those were my only attempts at the time. My art instructor, Karen and the visiting instructor, Megan let me know that it was totally fine to leave my figures as is with no faces. They empowered me during this class critique, and gave me confidence to pursue this style of painting. Since then, I have only made this kind of work. It is uniquely mine, and I do not seek to create work that is oh so familiar. I'm grateful that I have created a language in which others can understand, and exchange many stories over. It is a connective tissue.
6. Do you always paint from photography?
I only paint from photography. I wish I was more skilled in painting from imagination, but I don't think I will ever arrive there. I often take photos of photos so I may use them as reference points at the studio. I try not to take photos from my family members. Although I am very careful, I would hate if anything were to ever happen to them in my care. They are so precious to me.
7. How does storytelling or memory figure into the work?
All paintings are created after my personal family photos. Some may have been taken well before my arrival into the world, so I am often curious. I am never fully aware of the happenings or who the people are in my family photos. This unknowingness all sparks conversation. I am simply playing a game of telephone. I archive, and collect moments from my history and share them with the world. I ask many questions, and receive an abundance of inspirational answers that move me to recreate that experience. I would also say that colors tell stories, too. Sometimes, I select certain photos based off of the color conversation happening. Colors have a tendency to teleport, and unearth nostalgia. Once the perfect hue is created, I am able to paint up that moment.
8. You've said Mary Cassat is an inspiration for the family scenes, who else inspires you?
You know, I often think of Egon Schiele with how intense the work is. Like Schiele's white outlines in the figures, I give my sitters brush strokes from the crowns of their heads . They signify the importance of every individual, and also are an adaptation of the "cheese block" halos from the Renaissance art period. My family may not be religious icons, but they have been impressional people in my life. I hold my family high, and absolutely adore them. They are my true inspiration.
9. Outside of painting –– what have been some activities or rituals keeping you grounded and interested at this time?
Outside of my work, I spend time researching. I've been diving into new hobbies. I just picked up my first film camera, and look to shoot new material to paint from. My Pop Pop, who is also a photographer, has been sharing his photo albums with me lately. It has been a treat to see life from his point of view. One day, I aspire to shoot with medium format, and be polished in the world of photography.
See more of Shaina and her paintings here .