Dale McKinney, “Old Red New Green,” ca. 1964

Try googling Dale McKinney. Got it? Yeah, he doesn’t have a website. What you will find is a plethora of artists’ sites that discuss him as an influence. I’m sure McKinney prefers being listed in people’s hearts rather than in pdf files. While digging through the Gardiner Art Gallery permanent collection, McKinney’s painting, Old Red New Green, really stuck out to me. It is unusual, pretty hypnotizing, and heavily contrasted with complementary colors.

Dale McKinney, "Old Red New Green," ca. 1964. Acrylic on canvas, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection.

Dale McKinney, a former professor at Oklahoma State University, was a kinetic artist. He taught sculpture, but was also a painter. His work was very avant-garde. According to Bob Heatly, a former student, he was highly skilled in color theory. He would use a “complementary color to cause an edge to vibrate or seem to move on the canvas.” This is exactly what I experienced when I first saw Old Red New Green. Design and composition were very important to McKinney, and he stressed this in great detail to his students.

The piece was completed in 1964. It is acrylic on canvas and is 49×36 inches. It is very much a modernist painting, and appears to be a landscape. Line is very prominent through the piece and really moves the eye around the canvas. Initially, I’m attracted to the blue circular orb against a vibrant red background. Then, my attention is directed upward by the line shifts. The variations in line patterns are contrasted by the strict vertical line space in the sky. This gives the piece a real sense of depth and movement. The interpretation really is up to the viewer, since it is an abstract landscape. This is another reason it seems so modern to me. He was experimenting with line and color rather than regurgitating what he saw.

McKinney’s work seems to be very articulate and thoughtful. Even though childish figures and shapes are used, they are contrasted by a level of craft and hypnotism caused by the kinetic use of color and line. His work, life and teaching continue to inspire artists, and will do so even more when he finds a new home in the upcoming Oklahoma State Art Museum!

Author Tiffany McAnarney is a senior enrolled in ART 3683: History of 20th Century Art.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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6 Responses to Dale McKinney, “Old Red New Green,” ca. 1964

  1. Pingback: Designing the Museum: An Interview With Architect Rand Elliott | Oklahoma State University Art Collection

  2. cole says:

    Great post! Thank you. Dale was an amazing man. He was friends with my grandmother in Stillwater. I recall visiting his geodesic dome studio as a kid and being so amazed with all the cool sculptures and wild gadgets he had created. My parents actually have a number of his art pieces in their home in Phoenix too, which I admire whenever I visit. Is any of his work visible at OSU any longer?

    • osucurator says:

      Hi Cole! It is always exciting for us to hear from someone who knew Dale personally.

      We will have several pieces by Dale in our first exhibition of the permanent collection at the Postal Plaza Gallery in downtown Stillwater — follow us on Facebook or Twitter (facebook.com/OSUMuseumofArt or @OSUMuseumofArt) to stay in touch for more information!

      We are also hoping to do a larger retrospective of Dale’s work in the future, although that will be a few years out.

      Louise.

      • Michael Wright says:

        Hello. I am the son of Robert Wright, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at OSU. My father knew Dale well and was a family friend. When I was growing up we visited Dale in his studio and he would play us his wonderful recordings and kinetic sculptures. He was a really amazing man and artist. I would be very interested in any exhibitions of his work in the future. He was a real gem.
        Best. Michael Wright

  3. osucurator says:

    Hi, Michael — thanks for commenting! I’m on sabbatical this year (and thus not in Stillwater), but when I get back I’d love to talk with you about Dale’s studio. When the OSU Museum of Art opened in 2014, we included a couple of his pieces in our show of the permanent collection, “Sharing a Journey: Building the OSU Museum of Art Collection.” That catalogue is still available from the museum. We also invited contemporary artist Jorge Bachman to create an artwork that was a response to Dale’s work in Spring 2014. He worked with our collection of Dale’s kinetic sculptures (most sadly in very poor condition) and created a stunning video piece called “Driftings 020140416,” which runs about 8 minutes and is now in the museum collection, so if you’re in Stillwater, you could make an appointment to see it. My dream of doing a larger retrospective exhibition seems increasingly far off; funding for the arts in general is minimal these days, and the task of repairing Dale’s kinetic sculptures and making them ready to exhibit would be enormous and costly. But I’m still collecting information and stories for when the opportunity does come!

    • Michael Wright says:

      Would it be possible to correspond with you directly offline? I’m very interested in finding out more but not necessarily posting on line. Thanks!

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