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Meet Renee LaVallee McKenna

Today we’d like to introduce you to Renee LaVallee McKenna.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
Perfectionism and a fragile ego killed my creativity for much of my life. By the time I reached my late 30s, my need for approval had watered down enough that I could start to create things that I liked rather than what I thought others wanted. Getting older helped, too. And having children. Having children was really the catalyst for my art. The teacher at my kids’ preschool kept putting me at the art table with the 2-4-year-old when I volunteered in the classroom. Art with little kids is all about fun and process. They don’t care if it’s “good.” The experience of just playing with color and texture opened me to creating in a different way. I moved away from strict realism and into the fun with paint.

There is this amazing video Prodigy of Color About this child artist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23hWMvSrZx8

After watching that 15-minute video I grabbed a canvas and spontaneously started pouring paint. It opened a whole new door. Not long after, I had an opportunity to paint a big mural at the preschool. I had never worked big before. It was so fun, and public art is actually rather anonymous, which I liked. No one knew who did the mural. It was a scene with giant insects. The kids loved it and that was what mattered. I’ve painted many murals and done some large public mosaics since then. Sometimes I sneak out in the middle of the night and paint fun objects over ugly street graffiti. I call that my guerrilla art. Nothing destructive, just unauthorized beautification.

I love color and I feel like the paint has its own spirit. I’m rather Taoist in that way. All things have their own life energy, even seemingly inanimate things like paint and yarn. Also, everything is impermanent. Created, sustained, destroyed. I seek to capture the moment, the essence. My art is very much in process. This first 10+ years of opening as an artist had been about loosening up. Next, I hope to move back to realism with what I have learned about process. I’m working on my first large portrait in this style now. I might call it poured realism. Play is central to my creativity and I am no longer a perfectionist. Thank the Goddess.

Please tell us about your art.
Bringing Spirit into form is my intention. My work as a healer, therapist and Shaman provides endless inspiration. Exploring the many faces of the Divine Feminine and the spirituality of women is my passion. I love texture and bold bright colors, my canvas work is totally influenced by my mural and other public art. For example, I use acrylic high gloss exterior house paint for all my paintings. Using house paint started because I had all this paint left over after doing large murals. Awesome colors I had hand-picked. I got 2 cases of commercial ketchup squeeze bottles and filled them with paint for ease of pouring.

The unpredictable nature of poured paint drove me to look for alternatives. The answer came from more public art-yarn bombing. I learned to crochet on YouTube for this art installation I did. I had a ton of yarn left over, so I started yarn or knit bombing. That’s when you wrap public objects, like trees or telephone polls in knitting.

Then I started playing with yarn in my paintings. I had been collating beads, feathers and found objects into paint for a while. I also do sacred ash painting, where I mix cremation ash with paint and create art memorials of people and pets who have passed. So, mixing things in paint is interesting for me.

I tried glueing yarn to canvas or dropping it into painted areas for design and texture. That lead to the multi-step process I use today (I have time lapse video of my process). I draw my design on canvas, glue yarn over the lines, paint the whole canvas with house paint primer m, including the yarn, then underpaying my basic colors and then pour paint on various section until it’s done. Very bright colors are my signature. I rarely mix color, preferring the effect of pouring and letting colors blend naturally.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
I think each artist faces their own challenges. Expressing authentic experience rather than what we think others want to see is an issue for us all as humans. But for the artist, being true to oneself is central, even necessary for real art to form.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
San Francisco Women Artists Gallery

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Renee Mckenna 2018

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