The Spirit of the Place

Artist K.L. McKenna uses color as her platform to play


Mountain Pond
Telluride II
K.L. McKenna
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches


A WILD, WESTERN CHILDHOOD “My father was a paleontologist and I was born in California, but we relocated to New York because he worked at the Museum of Natural History. We would always go back out West every summer—traveling across the country to Colorado and to Wyoming, where he did a lot of his work. We wouldn’t see anybody for weeks, and we would be camping out all summer long in the wilderness.”

THE MAGIC OF COLOR “One of the things I loved doing as a kid was drawing these abstract shapes with a pen or pencil and then coloring them in with all kinds of colors. If you look at my artwork, it starts off with lines and then I do the same thing: I determine the colors, and it goes from there. So, the color is not realistic, but it becomes my platform to play with color. Something happens where it magically pulls together. I don’t ever know how anything’s going to come out, and that’s the key thing with me.”

THE ESSENCE OF THE LANDSCAPE “There’s a lot of spirit in these paintings and there’s a lot of spirit in the landscape. I want people to really feel the beauty of that part of the American West. You’ve got purple buttes and red canyons and all kinds of colors that are exposed—ochre hills and blue-gray outcroppings and green rivers and yellow roads. So, I just exaggerate it to create a more colorful landscape. I love playing with color; I love inventing colors. It’s just about joy for me.”

NEXT McKenna’s photos of the Navajo and Hopi Nations, taken in the 1970s, are on display at the Arizona Heritage Center through December 2022.

Categories: Artists & Artisans