Skip McKinstry is a graphic designer, writer, artist and former university instructor who lives in Oklahoma City, OK. As a graphic designer McKinstry’s work examined the intersection between art and commerce, while as an artist his work examines the intersection between art and belief. McKinstry holds a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) in philosophy from Excelsior College (2007) and is slowly working toward a graduate certificate in Arts and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Along with several academic exhibitions, and juried exhibitions, McKinstry is most proud to have had his series, “Before the Foundation” featured at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, on the occasion of their conference on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
McKinstry grew up in Arkansas until the 7th grade when his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri – the boyhood home of Mark Twain. McKinstry describes his younger self as “kind of a nerd,” then quips, “Happily, I still am.”
As a young person, McKinstry sensed there was more to life than what we can see, and when reflecting on his younger self, offered that, “Music and art were very enchanting but as an adolescent, so were girls.”
In 1982, McKinstry moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In McKinstry’s twenties and thirties, he rode motorcycles, and touts the eastern part of Oklahoma – especially the Talahina Skyline Drive – as one of the most scenic and enjoyable places in the country.
In his thirties McKinstry returned to college to finish a degree in philosophy, and while there decided to get some formal training in Graphic design. McKinstry met a professor who became something of a mentor, and his advice after several semesters was for McKinstry to either go to the Art Institute in Pasadena, or put a portfolio together and get a job. McKinstry chose the latter and became an advertising professional.
Speaking about the intersection of art and commerce versus the intersection of art and belief, McKinstry said, “In the end, a strong case can be made that people need to be persuaded even of good things, so persuasion is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. I’m not sure there is that much difference between art and commerce vis a vis art and belief. The difference probably lies in what one is promoting.”
On the topic of society and cultural influence, Skip mused, “Every human being lives in a specific societal and cultural milieu. It is not possible to be unaffected by those things, so there is no doubt that they impact one’s artwork. The philosopher Roger Scruton argues that a person is not a thing, but a perspective. Each of us is a perspective and it follows that each of us, being unique individuals, have a unique perspective. What goes into influencing one’s perspective is a lifetime of experience and learning – from the moment of our birth, right up to the present moment. This understanding of persons as perspectives enables me to avoid taking myself too seriously, since I only see from my own frame of reference, I see only with my own eyes, and another person’s vision might be clearer.”
Artists whose perspectives and vision have influenced ( inspired ) McKinstry significantly are Jun’ichiro Sekino, Thomas Hart Benton, Mark Rothko, Lois Reeve, and Makoto Fujimura. “Jun’ichiro Sekino was a 20th Century Japanese woodblock artist who created what might be my favorite piece of art of all time. Hara Roof-Tile Reflection of Mt. Fuji (1968), which portrays Mt. Fuji in the rooftop tiles of a traditional Japanese home. Thomas Hart Benton was from Missouri, where I lived during junior high and high school. I always found his work immensely satisfying, especially in his ability to distort the human form for emotional effect. Mark Rothko and Makoto Fujimura come from different worlds and their art is not very similar. However, both artists see the importance of spending time with a piece of artwork in order to let it settle in to the viewer’s psyche. Their process, and their recommended viewer’s process is meditative and I believe much of my work also opens up upon prolonged viewing. Lois Reeve was my stepmother. After a lifelong career as a nurse, she pursued fine arts in retirement. My stepmother was a gifted painter, book-maker, and print maker. Her work never won great acclaim – although had it been shown earlier in her life, I suspect she would have achieved a degree of recognition. From her, I learned a lot about the motivation to do art. It is not for the acclaim or recognition; it is ultimately to live into one’s God-given creativity.”
Spirituality has also played a role in shaping McKinstry’s art. “I believe we are all created for a purpose with unique roles that, by design, we fill. In Ephesians 2:10 (The New King James Version), it says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” The word workmanship is ‘poiema.’ We are Gods poetry – or, as some translations read, masterpiece or work of art. So, as a being created in Gods image, it gives meaning to my own making and creating.”
When asked why he chose “Notes Toward A Re-Enchantment of the World” for the title of his show, Skip McKinstry replied with a quote from the author CS Lewis, when dedicating his book “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” to his god-daughter, Lucy Barfield:
“…some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
McKinstry said, “I think I am now old enough to understand what he was saying. Children are natural believers in an enchanted universe…until we get hold of them and persuade them they must ‘put away childish things.’ The course of human thought for the past several hundred years has taken us down something of a dead end and tried to persuade us that reason is the highest form of human thought, science can explain everything, and ‘if you can’t measure something, it doesn’t exist.’ In short, there is nothing beyond what we can see and measure. We have fallen for the idea that nothing exists but energy, matter, time and randomness. To be clear, I am not opposed to reason, science, or measuring things. But I believe there is more than meets the eye in the universe we inhabit.”
When asked if the world is un-enchanted, McKinstry responded, “As we have diligently worked to encourage a rational only mindset, as we have fostered dis-belief and de-mythologization we have dis-enchanted the universe. The irony of disenchanting the universe is that we, ourselves, have become disenchanted. The universe is as enchanting as ever, we have stopped believing, and without belief, it is very hard to see.”
McKinstry believes the maladies that have followed as a result of this disenchantment are a lack of meaning, despair, and even irrational behavior. For McKinstry the ability to gain that childlike expectation of awe and wonder – seeing once again through the eyes of a child can once again help us to glimpse the profound. “At best, my artistic focus is but a dim reflection of an enchanted universe, but sometimes in the mundanity of day-to-day life, something larger, more beautiful and more meaningful can break through if only for a moment. That is the experience I personally have when working on a piece of art. If these epiphanous moments can point someone toward a broader vision of what it means to live in this extraordinary world, then my artwork may help to serve as ‘notes’, or signposts to a larger reality.”
McKinstry has always been obsessed with finding meanings. “Perhaps Plato’s most famous philosophical discussions is ‘The Allegory of the Cave.’ In the story, prisoners are chained, unable to turn their heads, with their view facing a wall upon which they can see nothing but shadows of things passing between them and a fire behind them. They cannot see things themselves, only shadows, so they come to believe that those shadows are reality. When one of the prisoners chains are broken and he finds his way outside, he is astonished to see that the shadows are merely dim reflections of a much grander reality. Returning to the cave he attempts to ‘enlighten’ the other prisoners.”
McKinstry is “fascinated by shadows, reflected images, and glimpses out of the corner of the eye.” The artist says, “I like to work with these ‘lesser’ images and refine them until I have a clearer picture of the reality they point toward. I will admit that they may remain at a level of abstraction, yet, they can speak to us of the ineffable and describe those things which are sometimes visually and verbally indescribable.”