While many of his contemporaries have begun to migrate towards the conceptual and digital, New York-based artist Taylor McKimens roots himself firmly in the traditional craft of draftsmanship and portraiture. His color palette and style is definitely modern, but his most recent inspiration is quite ancient. How ancient? Try 301 AD.
In 2015, McKimens was commissioned by the Republic of San Marino to paint a portrait of their founding patron, Saint Marinus. A stonemason who escaped religious persecution in the city of Arbus, Marinus fled to Italy’s Apennine mountains to eventually erect a chapel, which would one day become the center of San Marino, the oldest independent Republic in the world.
Each year, the Republic commemorates their founder by commissioning a contemporary artist to paint his likeness. This may sound simple enough, but when we’re talking about a guy that dates back to the first 300 recorded years on earth, it’s slightly more difficult than doing a quick google search (though everyone can agree, dude had a beard). After countless hours of research and sketches, McKimens was able to render the image of the man who inspired more than a few tall tales and instilled a community with an independent spirit that would last a great deal longer than he likely imagined. For McKimens, the physical traits were less important than capturing the right expression. To do so, he studied traditional portraiture styles of Italian Renaissance painters as well as religious icons.
This is the second time this year that McKimens has shifted his focus from depicting scenes of rural American life in favor of ancient European history. His September show Stoic Youth at The Hole was inspired by two Greek sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their nearly gender-less, expressionless faces intrigued McKimens and motivated a series of over 20 portraits ranging from 20 x 30 inch canvases to massive wall mounts.
Regardless of size or subject matter, McKimens’ style remains the same — a mixture of bright colors, meticulous cross-hatching, and a unique blend of comic-book aesthetic mixed with traditional painting. It’s the lively spirit that is manifested in his work that makes it no surprise that the world’s most independent state commissioned him to celebrate their long history of individuality.
McKimens portrait of Saint Marinus is on display at the Palazzo del Governo in San Marino, curated by Walter Gasperoni for Instituti Cultural, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Republicca di San Marino.