Sam McKinniss’s fun and fey array of subjects—friends, celebrities, film stills, animals, and floral arrangements—has a lot in common with those of other image-collecting painters like Elizabeth Peyton and Karen Kilimnik. But McKinniss paints with a full-bodied intensity that harks back to older traditions of portraiture. In “Egyptian Violet” (all works 2016), his first solo show at Team, the pictures are chromatically united through his use repeated of the pigment of that name. Violet swims from one canvas to the next in a fluid spectrum of tints and shades.
In Flipper, Egyptian Violet saturates the sea around the cheery dolphin and accents the curves of his squeaky skin. It highlights Whitney Houston’s hair in It’s not right, but it’s OK, and in Snoop Dogg it looms behind the rapper, brightening as it approaches his body, cresting the cutting edge of his cheekbone. In a floral etude after Fantin-Latour, purple lurks under petals of blossoms that droop, heavy with decay. Prince, a monument to the late pop star, is the stunning centerpiece of the show. Here, Egyptian Violet colors the voluminous folds of the velvety jacket Prince wears as he perches on a motorcycle. Red and orange burst into flame behind him, and Egyptian Violet does battle—or has sex with—these hotter hues.
“Egyptian Violet” is the biography of a color as it creeps through lost time, coaxing images out of the middle ground of memory and fixing new versions of them indelibly at the front. This is painting that worships death, and conquers it. —Brian Droitcour
Pictured: Sam McKinniss: Flipper, 2016, oil and acrylic on canvas, 96 by 72 inches. Courtesy Team, New York.