Hovering between photography and painting, American artist Casey McKee’s uncanny work toys with our perception of reality in order to reveal deeper truths about the societies we live in. McKee’s mission is to tell a story which is why his work is always produced in series creating, as he explains, “a larger context that one painting alone cannot achieve”. Elaborately staged be it an offshore oil platform viewed from the beach or businessmen fighting in a boxing ring, McKee’s images both document and subvert the symbolically charged subjects he chooses to depict, sometimes with humour and playfulness and other times, such as in his latest series titled “The Machine Stops”, with dreamlike lyricism. Currently exhibited at Space K gallery in Seoul, South Korea, the series centres on a solitary astronaut exploring what looks to be the desolate landscape of some distant planet.
McKee is a self-taught artist and his unique, three-step artistic process was developed through trial and error. First comes the photoshoot; next, he proceeds to his darkroom where he develops his photographs by applying - in near darkness - the photographic emulsion onto a canvas, wood or paper substrate, an almost instinctive painting process since he only sees the final image when he dips the canvas into the developer solution. The third and most time-consuming step takes place in his studio where he paints over the photograph with oil paints. The result of this intricate process is images that seamlessly merge the objective gaze of the photographic lens with the quixotic sensibility of the artist’s mind.
The choice of the astronaut for his latest series is highly symbolic. Untethered from earth, he is a heroic yet solitary figure searching for something that seems to elude him. His immersive isolation is a metaphor for the paradoxical alienation that our over-connected world engenders. Caught up in our own social media bubble and trapped in our high-tech cocoons, we seem to be communicating like never before when in fact we have never been more isolated. But McKee also points out that similarly to Albert Camus’ protagonist in his novel The Stranger, the astronaut could also represent an attempt to defy the rulebook of modern society, albeit not quite successfully—Camus’s protagonist is literally condemned to death for his defiance. Then again, there is always a price to pay for following your own path in life.