Kinnie paints ‘piss-drunk’ portraits

Upcoming exhibition captures casualness and intimacy of intoxication

Jack Kinnie’s basement studio is awesome in the fullest sense of the word. Despite its modest size, the six massive canvasses leaning against the walls lend the space the air of a cathedral, ushering visitors into a sense of subdued reverence.
These canvases are handmade, constructed from scavenged floral bed sheets stretched over four-by-seven-foot frames. Each canvas depicts a candid portrait of a Mount Allison student, their faces defined by dark shadows and illuminated with bursts of colour. These six portraits are the subject of Kinnie’s upcoming exhibition, “Piss Drunk and High as Hell.”
“It’s about party culture,” said Kinnie. “But it’s also more personal; it’s about these young adults at a certain point in their lives.”
All of the portraits are modeled on photos of students taken after a night out on the town. Kinnie recruited friends from his residence to sit in a makeshift studio he built in his dorm room. He rigged lights from his furniture and used plastic water bottles as filters, bathing each portrait in a wash of colour.
“I wanted to parody formal portraiture,” said Kinnie. “That’s why I tried to keep the studio professional.”
Kinnie explained that the use of drugs and alcohol helped to disrupt this formal studio setting, allowing his subjects to open up and express themselves in a visually spontaneous way. Nothing was posed, and the images that appear on his canvasses were selected from among hundreds of photographs.
“I wanted to keep it casual,” said Kinnie. “I would just bring [students] into the studio and let them talk. They were just doing them; they just happened to be in front of my camera.”
This honesty contrasts with Kinnie’s oversized canvases and dramatic use of light, which bring to mind the choreographed advertisements printed by the university featuring students lounging by the swan pond or walking across the academic quad. Kinnie subverts these commercial images by depicting a different, more human side of Sackville.
“They’re the same students, just on a Friday night,” Kinnie surmised. “The reality of Sackville is closer to what I paint than what the university represents.”
The carefree sense of abandon Kinnie captures in his subjects is mirrored in his painting style. His images are created by layering a series of translucent, watered-down glazes with broad brush strokes and a palette knife. This loose, fluid technique allows his colours to flow together, creating a sense of depth and accenting the comparatively tight, restrained lines he uses to depict the features of his subjects’ faces.
Kinnie’s use of light also highlights these features. “I did all the pieces under the same light,” said Kinnie. “They all have that strong warm light on their right and that colder, harsher light on their left.” On his canvases, these subtle variations merge into rich shadows accented by reds and yellows that bring his subjects to life with a sense of baroque theatricality.
The complexity of Kinnie’s work lies in its ability to capture not just an image, but a mindset. “Piss Drunk and High as Hell” embodies the relentless pursuit of pleasure that defines our consumer society. The cultural theorist Mark Fisher refers to this state of intense consumption as “depressive hedonia,” a cultural malaise manifested not by a lack of pleasure, but by an inability to pursue anything else but pleasure.
In Kinnie’s work, this sensation is represented in an immediately accessible and highly personal way. “My painting style’s not some careful, drawn-out process,” said Kinney. “The way I painted for this show is… I’d get a little tipsy, bring some people over, we’d do some shit and I’d just paint some stuff.”
“Piss Drunk and High as Hell” will open at START Gallery at 7 Lorne St. on Oct. 30 from 8 to 10 p.m.

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