Artist John McKaig explores themes of shifting identity in HUB Gallery exhibit

January 24, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For John McKaig, the simple act of slowing down and putting marks on a surface becomes a perfect blend of abstract and layered thought on one hand, and practical action on the other, in a way that connects him to the first primal human actions. 

"Drawings & Prints by John McKaig" will be on display through March 1, and a public reception will be held in the gallery from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8. The HUB Gallery is located on the first floor of the HUB-Robeson Center and is open noon-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and noon-4 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

By using symbols and images and giving them a new context, McKaig says he transforms them into a series of personal symbols describing layers of different “worlds” in order to depict his shifting identity that comes with the passage of time; his reflection of his identity and existential meaning; and to relate his experience to memories of specific events that defined him. He also layers and re-contextualizes formal elements as part of his exploration of how queer theory informs his work and his life — McKaig rejects the dominant standards in life and in imagery, and hopes that his re-contextualization of objects alludes to his exploration of his queer identity. Very often he doesn’t begin with a complete plan as to how the many layers of his works will affect each other, but takes an approach similar to that common in improvisational jazz, where he attempts to make them function on individual levels as well as in conduction with the other components. 

The nautical imagery and objects that are so prevalent in his works are McKaig’s way of exploring the idea of passage through life, the idea of always being either “outward or homeward bound,” as the nautical saying goes, and to explore the idea of escape towards a potentially invigorating but perilous situation, as happens in an active life. By incorporating theatrical elements he poetically gives emphasis or inserts mis-direction, such as an element appearing both as a background and a significant component, in order to allude to a dual identity or different time relationships.

Depicting recognizable objects, spaces and figurative elements allows McKaig to maintain a straight-forward connection to the viewers’ experiences, he says. Because of his disdain for irony and cynicism, he endeavors to make his work approachable, but with the hope and expectation that it should be observed carefully and with contemplation. To that end, McKaig goes where his ideas take him, pushing aside ideas of over-analysis or cynicism, and exploring how to communicate a thematic approach in his work, often shifting to different media in order to explore how the inherent qualities of that media can allow him to make the viewer understand a richer connection between all the images.

Last Updated January 24, 2018