When it comes to art, what’s taken as outstanding and worthy of appreciation ends up intersecting at the interests of the creator and the consumer. Though in Nathan McKee’s case, what he designates as beautiful are the things we all do and enjoy—all of what isn’t abstract. McKee makes minimalist yet accurate depictions of what comes most natural to people in sports, music and film.
His most recent exhibit, “Last Season,” is sports themed. He’s done NBA works in the past, but this one holds a particularly special place to local basketball fans. It’s meant to celebrate the Portland Trail Blazers, especially after their exciting but entirely too short-lived run in the NBA playoffs earlier this year. The exhibit blends cuts of more recent players like CJ McCollum and Robin Lopez, to older players like Rasheed Wallace and even Bill Walton.
McKee has varied interests, but it was a parental push when he was younger that planted the seeds for him.
“Both my parents were creative hippies and they pushed me into being creative from a young age,” McKee said. “Once I started skateboarding in the ‘80s, I met so many other weirdo creatives, and it just took off from there.”
When he started focusing on his art specifically, music was his main inspiration. A hip-hop head, his favorite rappers and b-boy dancers made up many of his cut-outs, but after moving back to Portland from Chicago he rediscovered his love for basketball and our local team, touting Jacob Weinstein’s FreeDarko illustrations as noteworthy. “[Those illustrations] really changed the way I looked at ball and art,” McKee said. “I saw that you didn’t have to be a total jock to appreciate basketball and the art of it.”
The former Pacific Northwest College of Art student used to do screen and block printing, but his time in Chicago saw him getting into street art and stencils. Winters out there made it hard to work with paint because it would freeze, but thankfully, another medium ended up working in his favor. “It was a pain in the ass, and I had to figure out how to get the same aesthetic but not as messy or cold,” McKee said. “That’s when I stumbled upon using paper instead but in the same way with just layering colors. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Though the pieces he makes now are literally constructed solely out of paper, they still breathe an air of dimensional life. McKee appreciates the flat colors of the paper and the texture they create, both of which aids in animating simple pieces of paper.
McKee’s “Last Season” is currently showing at Laundry in Chinatown until the end of this month. Next, he’s got shows in Chicago and Hawaii, but to keep up with what he’s got going on locally, follow him on Instagram.
Cervanté Pope is a music and culture journalist whose work has been included in various publications around Portland including Willamette Week, the Portland Mercury and the Portland Observer, as well as a couple of creative nonfiction anthologies. When she's not tackling a giant mountain of deadlines she can be found headbanging at a metal show, advocating for animal rights or trying to scheme a way to get on Family Feud.