Fifty years ago, Judy Kensley McKie majored in painting at Rhode Island School of Design. She and her husband, painter Todd McKie, married young; when they needed furniture for their place, Judy set to making it. Thus began an illustrious career in studio furniture.
She always drew and has a show of works on paper, some dating back to 1988, at Gallery NAGA. Like her furniture, these drawings, prints, paintings, and handmade-paper works depict animals with sleek lines and an iconographic sensibility.
Her animals, in furniture and on paper, are always individuals — a bear, not “Bear” — yet thanks to their simplicity, her portrayals have emblematic charge. On paper, she pares them down to flat, often frontal images. The feline in the woodcut “Leopard” stares us down, angry and slightly quizzical. Its front legs drop like pillars from immense shoulders on either side of the narrow, seated body. The nearly archi-tectonic form makes sense from a furniture artist, and it com-municates strength and poise. Still, for all its solidity, it looks prepared to pounce.
“Eagle,” an antic piece in handmade paper, also gazes straight out, gray wings spread. This is an entirely different character from the leopard, although it shares a composition of simplified forms and even a spotted body. Its head tilts; it perches on splayed, spindly legs. This fellow is more like someone you can’t break away from at a party, intent on telling you the amazing size of the fish he caught.
McKie’s figures are notably similar to her husband’s. Todd McKie also works flat and simple, although he paints people, not animals. His subjects sometimes look out at us baffled or over-eager, a little like “Eagle.” Todd’s works wrestle comically with existential quandaries, and Judy’s are part portrait, part totem. In a two-person show, the clarity of Judy’s pieces would counterpoint the doubt in Todd’s. I’d be curious to see it.
JUDY KENSLEY McKIE:
Works on Paper
At Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St., through Dec. 17. 617-267-9060, www.gallerynaga.com