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Sam McKinniss: Young Artists 2018

Kat Herriman

Photography by Jason Schmidt

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After a debut solo show at Team in 2016 and an album cover collaboration with Lorde, Sam McKinniss decided to take a step back. The New York-based painter spent this past summer recovering, particularly since he has a follow-up exhibition at Team’s Los Angeles bungalow come January.

To prepare for the show, he read “Helter Skelter” and Joan Didion’s “White Album” to get in a California mood. “I was fascinated with the way Charles Manson really started vibing on the Beatles and wanted to be a singer-songwriter, but was a joke at it and failed, so he started killing people instead,” McKinniss says. “I thought, ‘I’m really into pop music too, what if I became psychotic?’ But I didn’t. So I started making paintings instead.” Over a couple of weeks, he produced 30 full-color drawings, which became the basis for “Daisy Chain.”

Sam McKinniss’ Beck, 2017.

Like “Egyptian Violet,” his exhibition at Team last year, “Daisy Chain” will pull imagery from the perversely popular. A suite of portraits—including Jonbenét Ramsey with baby’s breath in her hair, a naked Drew Barrymore crowned with daisies and the second edition cover of William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”—poke at hippy tropes co-opted by pop culture in the 1990s. “I just know that my work operates on kind of this romantic level and flowers are a shortcut to getting there,” McKinniss says. “There is such a history of painting flowers that you are allowed to use it as a shorthand for love plus death equals romance.”

It comes as no surprise that the painter admires the artist Maureen Gallace. “I think Maureen is always about plausible denialbility, like the beachside cottage as an alibi for other darker, more complicated things going on behind closed doors,” he says. “I don’t think she’d ever admit this but they are not quite about New England or having a nice day, I think darker themes loom large around that work and you’d be hard pressed to prove it.” One could say the same about McKinniss.