The images, figures, and environments that appear in the paintings of Sam McKinniss (b. 1985, Northfield, Minnesota) speak to the uncanny, unsettling atmospheres of the internet and popular culture. Though these images often emerge from a digital sphere characterized by extremes of spectacle and flatness, McKinniss transposes them into the vivid, humanist vocabulary of his chosen materials, which include not only the pigments and mediums with which he renders his compositions, but the emotion, desire, pathos, humor, and paradox he locates within them. The familiarity that characterizes many of his subjects—which are drawn from the celebrity-saturated worlds of entertainment or otherwise recognizable contexts like sport, news, politics, and nature—serves as a threshold beyond which less easily definable forms and experiences come into view. These are made up in part by McKinniss’s ability to make paint communicate variousness, seduction, and indeterminacy, so that the facades of images processed by mass media are granted a new, immediate kind of aesthetic power and psychological sensitivity rooted in the textural and chromatic subtleties of the paintings’ surfaces. For McKinniss, the surfaces of images do not necessarily obscure or negate depth. Rather, they are the places where depth and meaning begin and end, and where the puzzling, uncomfortable, and provocative details of life lay hidden in plain sight.
Sam McKinniss has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Almine Rech, Paris (2022), London (2021), and Brussels (2019); and The Ovitz Family Collection, Beverly Hills, California (2021). Recent group exhibitions include Friends & Lovers, The FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2023–2024) and Pictus Porrectus: Reconsidering the Full Length Portrait, Art&Newport, Newport, Rhode Island (2022). His work is in the permanent collections of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; and Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts. McKinniss lives and works in New York and Kent, Connecticut.