Delisha Renee McKinney makes whimsical illustrations that are larger than life, full of vibrant colors, textures and hidden meanings. Each piece represents another page in the story she’s been working on her whole life. Her otherworldly characters represent the thin line between fantasy and reality, a whole new world sketched by McKinney, who is a self taught painter and self proclaimed nomad from the South, now practicing in Chicago.
McKinney’s art isn’t just something you stand in front of and gaze at, you step into it and experience it. Her art pulls you in with its playful approach to the canvas, the soft lines, the shapes, and Alice in Wonderland vibe. If adults still believed in fairytales, hers would be it. A place where art can pull you up from the streets, hero means love, and dreams do come true.
AMFM: Did you go to art school or have a background in illustration? Have you always been making work?
DELISHA RENEE MCKINNEY: I’m a self taught black kid from the South. Everything I’ve learned is the result of being homeless, with no real roots anywhere, and meeting amazing art teachers who nurtured my talents as much as they could before I had to move again.
AMFM: Your work is larger than life and whimsical and walks the line between fantasy and reality. where does that inspiration come from? Who are these characters that come to you?
MCKINNEY: I draw inspiration for humanity’s wants in life. The things we desire more than anything, but can’t have. Love, freedom, innocence, etc, and just how we’re all basically children in comparison to the vastness of our universe. Love is such a beautiful topic to discuss with people. Personally I think of it as I would a unicorn. It could be real, but I haven’t had the pleasure. That is what Hero (the blue bear) is. The other characters are just as significant to me in representation of the things I can’t have in reality.
AMFM: Can you describe your current body of work, when we met, it was your first time showing it, how long have you been invested in it?
MCKINNEY: All the work I’ve produced this year is from a concept I’ve been working on for the last five to six years. It’s all about substance. The beginning of a new world. I’m full of dreams, and the content of my art has been first in line. It’s given me the ability to have people question themselves without offending. I’ve been working on it for awhile, yes…because I wanted my voice to be lucid with integrity. “If your gonna speak you better have something amazing to say.” That has become my motto.
AMFM: You mentioned you were homeless? When was this? How did making art get you through that? Was it your savior?
MCKINNEY: I was in high school during my homeless years and a little after. Art has been my way of communicating for years…unfortunately not everyone can understand you if you don’t say actual words, so I hid in it. Away from the world, and in my art. It was a safe place. My daughter saved me. I guess since I made her, she is sorta like my art.
AMFM: Why did you call the bear Hero?
MCKINNEY: Hero is love. Just the things that blue bear goes through is so sad and righteous. Maybe we shouldn’t call love, love. We’ll call it Hero instead.
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