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Montross native exhibits work at Westmoreland County Museum

Posted on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 9:35 am

Phil McKenney is the featured artist for this month’s art and wine event at the museum that begins with an opening reception Wednesday, Sept. 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.

A home-grown artist exhibiting his work in the Westmoreland County Museum in the heart of his hometown of Montross – what could be more natural?

Phil McKenney is the featured artist for this month’s art and wine event at the museum that begins with an opening reception Wednesday, Sept. 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.

“People who have known me all my life may never have seen my work,” he said, adding that there is a story behind each painting that he will be glad to share.

A few larger pieces will also be on display at the Inn at Montross where the wine event takes place.

His association with WCM goes back some 10 years when then-board member Carl Flemer, commissioned McKenney to paint a piece for the museum that recognizes the roots of the county’s African American community.  More recently, WCM’s president, Susan Ripol, asked McKenney to help with the revitalization efforts of the Wakefield Building. The mundane job of scraping old paint off the building’s windows led to the creative job of painting an illustration on the side of the building. The mural recognizes those who contributed to restoration efforts.

McKenney’s style has evolved over most of his life, and will likely continue to do so.

“I’ve tried several styles over the years, and learned something from each one,” he said, reeling off a list of artistic influences that includes Picasso, Toulouse LauTrec, Mad Magazine, and film-makers John Ford and Sam Fuller.

“Those influences, my live sketch experiences and even my odd jobs all come together to produce off-the-wall, spontaneous pieces,” he said. “I like my work to look hand-done, not polished.

“I’ve always had a creative urge,” he added, recalling his early drawings as a kid. After graduating from W&L High School in 1973, he studied drafting and design, but found it, “too regimented,” and began his own unique life’s journey. During 20 years of working for the Virginia ABC Board he developed a cartoon strip called Ralph Clark the Relief Clerk (which was his job, by the way) that appeared in ABC Board newsletters.  In the 1980s he tried his hand at animation, and in 1993, a live action film called The Intruder that he shot in Montross. At the age of 41, he went on to attend VCU as an art major, graduating in 1999 with a BFA in Communication Arts with a focus on illustration.

“I was finally a trained illustrator,” he said, “at the same time that the illustration business started drying up. Ever since, I’ve been a freelance illustrator for anything that comes along.”

Not that this avid artist just sits and waits for things to happen. He seeks new venues as often as he has been sought, which has led to a diverse clientele: local and national print media like the Westmoreland News, Richmond Magazine, Free Lance Star, New York Times, and Southwest Airlines Magazine have published political and editorial cartoons; regional ABC, FOX and CBS TV stations have used his courtroom art; and he provides live sketches at fairs and parties. He’s also proud of “the biggest show of my life,” this past January at the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in Portsmouth. In between specific engagements he keeps his ideas fresh by working at various local jobs – from tending bar at Vault Field Vineyard to house painting or yard work.

His show will include pieces of a new quirky work – satellite dish art. Huh? TV stars on TV dishes! Come see for yourself.