Because I consider you the #1 painter in my life, I asked Alissa, who now works at Gladstone Gallery in New York, to explain where you are in your career. You will be pleased to know she believes you’re in a great place. “It’s really a moment where there’s excitement,” she said, adding, “and with that excitement, always comes scrutiny.” (Don’t worry: I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.)
“I don’t want to dress in order to raise eyebrows or turn heads, but I do think it’s important to be memorable. I would like to leave the room and remain in your thoughts.”
But I believe showing your art in a place like Michael’s home gallery adds a whole new meaning to what you do, and I know you agree. “It’s going to be interesting to put my work—nestle it very firmly, very comfortably—within a Hollywood sphere,” you said last year (remember?). You were vaping in your studio in what you call “prime Williamsburg,” perched in front of a painting in progress of the promo shot for Little Women—the 1994 Winona Ryder version. “So the context will be very in the know, it’ll be very business. That’s a level of access that I wasn’t expecting.” You paused. “I wasn’t expecting to be given that ever.”
My darling, you deserve it.
“Those are exciting moments, and they don’t happen very often,” you said, reflecting on your showbiz bona fides, like painting Lorde for her 2017 album cover. “And when they do, it feels like a snake eating its own tail. I think I have a flair for the obvious.”
I moved to New York with big dreams of meeting someone just like you: handsome, sharply dressed, talented, and 35. The image you cut makes an impression. “He’s very, very antique,” Cooke Maroney, another Gladstone Gallery director (what’s in the water there?!), told me. “He’s as close as I’ve gotten to meeting someone in a Proust novel.” Alissa said you’re like a Frank O’Hara or Truman Capote character. “I think that he somehow has been able to reconstitute all of these old-fashioned kinds of identities into something that’s incredibly contemporary in a special way,” she said. “He’s such a strange amalgamation of familiar things, which is what I think the work is also—and that’s why people connect to it.” Michael said you were the “nicest, smartest guy to be around.”
McKinniss dresses the way he paints: with a cool, classic elegance that shows he is in complete control.
It’s almost like you’re the antithesis of the tortured, asshole genius painter. You are the kind artist. The polite artist. The elegant artist. “Elegance, I think, is important,” you told me once, your delivery dry as a Communion wafer. “I think that’s one of my core values.” I wrote down your other core values and drew smileys around them: gratitude, love, friendship. Cosmopolitanism. “Having good posture. Propriety. Things like that. All this leads to situations or circumstances where you can transgress or when you can bend rules,” you said. “When you can ask for more than you think you deserve.”
I love the way you wear simple American clothes—button-downs, slacks, penny loafers, corduroy suits—with a pure, modest beauty. You treat appearance as a fine art. “It behooves me and any other member of cosmopolitan society to dress nicely and to present mindfully, thoughtfully,” you said. “I don’t want to dress in order to raise eyebrows or turn heads, but I do think it’s important to be memorable. I would like to leave the room and remain in your thoughts.”