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The bare-knuckle life of an artist

Posted on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 10:07 am

“Inspiration for art can come from anywhere.” Phil McKenney stands on the paint-splattered carpet covering only part of the hard-wood flooring in the heart of his art studio. “A dream, something you see, something that happens to you… You never know what will grab you.”

McKenney’s art studio takes up the entire top floor of his home. He knocked down several walls in order to make the area open concept. From every inch of the space, original paintings and drawings are on display. Sunlight gleams through the windows emphasizing globs of paint on the walls in place of wallpaper. On the wall opposite the stairs are the words “make it yours” written in pencil, surrounded by lingering pieces of painter’s tape where a picture probably once hung. A large cloth tarp devoid of any color or sketches suspends on an adjacent wall: a literal blank canvas.

McKenney mentions that he will leave the canvas draped there for weeks at a time. During his spare moments he will sit in a chair and stare at the sheet, trying to think of how to transform it into art. Tables, chairs, paint cans, and brushes line just about every edge of the studio.

From 1996-1999 McKenney attended Virginia Commonwealth University and majored in communication art illustration. At VCU he discovered his love for painting and says he learned almost as much from his fellow classmates as he did his instructors. The information and inspiration he gathered from his college experience was invaluable: “I just drank it.” During these years, McKenney explored the art of boxing, and began attending boxing matches and painting the scenes he witnessed. “I knew I couldn’t just go and draw,” McKenney says of the boxing matches he observed. “I had to try it.” While he says he never got good at the sport, McKenney still has a boxing area in a sizable nook in his art studio.

Although his interest in painting began in college, his love for drawing was activated long before; he had been drawing since “I was old enough to pick up a pencil.” He walks towards the stairs of the studio, where a horizontal, rectangular frame presents three drawings on worn, brown paper: McKenney etched the sketches of Popeye, Roy Rogers, and Woody Woodpecker when he was a child and has kept them every since. The pages of these drawings are some of just a few framed images in the art studio.

McKenney’s art studio has several painting

surfaces, displayed art, and a mini boxing

area to help him focus on his work.